Wednesday 17 September 2008

The mother of all market meltdowns

This is real propaganda (or messaging)  from the ministry of information in 1939. George Orwell would have seen this no doubt.

I'm surprised so few advertising people are acknowledging that we're in truly remarkable times. It's been a year of credit crunch with Bear Stearns on 'emergency loans',  Merrill Lynch sold to the Bank of America (convenient) Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae nationalised, that's proper nationalised like my heroes Ernest Bevan, Clement Atlee and Tony Benn would have done long before there was any trouble, Lehman brothers down and AIG about to bite the carpet. There's more to come as well.

I've been rereading my Nassim Nicolas Taleb (Fooled by Randomness, not The Back Swan) and although I can see like Johnnie Moore suggested to me that he's a bit full of himself, he has taught/reminded me that we know so little (the past is relatively short) that we've no idea about the future and so I'm not going to make any predictions except some light water colouring.

We're in for a change, I think monetarism might get a good spanking and selling stuff will still be vital but what is sold and how it is sold will change. (although more slowly) I don't think economic growth is the metric by which we can always measure a country's success. Just one example is that they shut the factories down in China for the Olympics and we had the cleanest air in Beijing for a few weeks.
I'm pretty sure someone somewhere in the oxyacetalyne growth obsessed Chinese Politburo must have said 'hang on what's it all for if we have a better quality of life by doing less'? Well greed is intoxicating isn't it so maybe not, and let's not point the finger because we thought we won something when Communism was beaten by the West. What we lost was the chance to grow slower-quicker but that's another post I guess. I absolutely love thinking and talking about those 'what if's'. One thing is for sure I'm sick to death of the word growth being used as if it's a sign of success. It's a sign of intellectual decay. We absolutely need to go slower in life. A rich man is one who goes slowly and takes their time. You can't buy time, you can only spend it so the wealth aquired usually means expending effort so hard that your life slips by before you can really start to enjoy it. I'll say it again. Rich people go slowly.
So that's enough from me for the time being. I sympathise if you're heavily exposed in mortgage on property that will be in negative equity but there's nothing for it but to adapt lifestyle and sit it out till money starts moving around again. Hopefully in a more intelligent way than the neoliberal economics that played on peoples greed and extended many of us way beyond our capacity to operate in harmony with the planet.
Anyone disagree?

Update Lehman just got propped up for 85 Billion Dollars by the Federal Reserve. Partially renationalised.

Status Anxiety

Imagine a society where the people congregated in public areas to sing, dance, skip and play games in the evening. Where they did it publicly and with happiness in their hearts. Where they did it for no cost at all and were unaware that they were so much richer than other people. That they were enjoying life at it's best. Spontaneous and free.
We'd think it was some sort of Nirvana woudn't we? An impossible dream, don't we work all our lives to achieve that kind of carefree feeling for a few remaining healthy years when we retire if we're lucky? Instead we fuel our days with envy of our peers and suffer from status anxiety. I want to thank Grumblemouse for bringing my attention to these videos by Alain de Botton on Youtube and also to share a little video I took two nights ago by Houhai which is a a popular lake area, North of Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City where I live in Beijing.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

AirAsia - Very On Brand

AirAsia Berhad (MYX: 5099) is a Malaysian-based low-cost airline. AirAsia is Asia's largest low-fare, no-frills airline and a pioneer of low-cost travel in Asia. AirAsia group operates scheduled domestic and international flights to over 400 destinations spanning 25 countries. Its main hub is the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Its affiliate airlines Thai AirAsia and Indonesia AirAsia have hubs in Suvarnabhumi Airport and Soekarno-Hatta International Airport respectively. AirAsia's registered office is in Petaling Jaya, Selangor while its head office is located in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Air Asia plans to open ASEAN regional headquarters in Jakarta by August or September 2011. The airline itself will maintain its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur for the time being.

AirAsia won the Skytrax World's best low-cost airline award in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. It has the world's lowest operating costs at $0.035/seat-kilometre in 2010. It is also the first airline in the region to implement fully ticketless air travel system.

I love this

Age and a few others have a problem with it that I've addressed in the comments of his blog but in short its going to be very tempting to do my Woman Whisperer imitation the next unreasonable request I get. I'd have scripted and directed the last few seconds less cliche bit in any case it's very very meme like for me. Whoa whoa ...ssssssshhhhhh... Easy there.

Best Practices in Social Media


Gavin over at Servant of Chaos has kindly tagged me for my view on best practises in Social Media.
I'd really like to talk about some of the ways I think brands could be behaving and talking to customers in social media because there's a valuable contribution for business entitites to sometimes (not always) get involved with the emerging media topography, but it's mainly theoretical stuff at the moment as I've not persuaded any clients to put some money and action into where I think they should, or even recommend how to conduct themselves in this enviroment but that will come in due course and I think some new legal entities might need to be established for that because the existing corporate structure doesn't allow for making mistakes and yet humans do that all the time, so unless we want brands to sound artificial we're going to need some human contribution at some point.... As I say, more on that later.

In the mean time I really think it's important to share one golden rule that I learnt the hard way with mIRC (early Twitter I like to say)  back in the mid 90's and through to a couple of years ago. It's crucial in social media to be unfailingly polite and for most people this is the opposite to how they feel behind the security (and often the anonymity and distance) of a keyboard.

Those who know me in real life are fully aware the only power I respect is that which is earnt. I've no hesitation in telling anyone what I think if I believe they are being innapropriate and that's because nobody owns me - It's a two way street though for mutual respect. One has to take it to give it.

However in social media I take a different approach. Despite sometimes wanting to be more combative or plain speaking I try hard to be polite, courteous and silent under criticism in social media. I'm not like that in real life particuarly when I lose respect for people and it's interesting that even those who know me through my blog can sense that. My temper has got me into more trouble than I know where to begin, in the past but it's also saved my life too in violent encounters.

Aside from that, the usual authenticity, transparency and honesty are very important. As indeed they are in real life but the internet is a different media from real life and requires different rules. Capiche?

Anyway now that I've got that out the way I think you should all know that Gavin has made a really smart move and started a social media jobs website which is going to keep him comfy during his retirment years because he just got on with it. The widget isn't working for me on this post but you can go check it out over here.


It's the start of a long journey once more, but this is the first piece of good news to come out of Zimbabwe for more years than I can remember. Morgan Tsvangiri is an African hero. - what a guy. I hope the power sharing works better than it sounds as they invariably don't solve that much. Hats off to Thabo Mbeki too for brokering this first step.

Sunday 14 September 2008


 Lots of people that I have a healthy respect for in the advertising world have criticized the new work by Crispin Porter for Microsoft and I can't agree with them. I'm with Grant and Adrian on this one because from what I've seen so far the work achieves two important goals.

 Firstly I like it. Not in a rapturous Gorilla or Monkey kind of way but it's likable and that's not an easy thing to achieve. I've rarely watched Seinfeld even though it's likable and funny content, I'm not a cheerleader for Bill Gates (I think luck was an important factor in his success) and generally I don't find using stars to be a credible route for marketing communications. BBDO starfuckers I think George calls this genre.

 However it's not important what I feel. It's amusing and that is a matter of subjectivity. I'm sure you can make you're own mind up on that.

 More importantly there are a lot of strategic communication problems that are in my eyes being solved by the work I've seen so far. I also think it's kind of interesting that it's quintessentially American advertising and yet there's a Windows Video Channel on Youtube it is universally distributed. A potent communications model for some American centric global brands if you stop to think about it (McDonalds? Nike?). Something along the lines of act local, think global (A word play on an oxymoron I've long disliked). But anyway, Microsoft using a Google owned distribution channel and not their own? Even Soapbox points towards the Youtube content. That says a lot to me after a chat with Geert in LA a couple of months ago where it was pointed out to me that use of non MS software is/was often frowned upon.

 I think it's only the commercially naive who could believe that communications can solve the Microsoft problem. The job of advertising here is to ameliorate the rising dissatisfaction with the brand and possibly communicate that Microsoft is determined to get closer to its customers through more down to earth and likable dialogue; for surely even monologue commercials such as this provoke a discourse that was seldom seen in the fifities when advertising took hold. Look, even I'm doing it. It's the internet you see!

 Back to the problem. What is Microsofts problem? Why is one of the most succesful companies on the planet in trouble. Simply put the operating system is unwieldy. If you pay a army of coders to improve stuff, they will invariably make additional stuff that isn't needed. It's called feature creep and is a recurring problem with technology associated designers. Reliability is also an issue when it comes to discussions of unwieldiness. The bigger the system the more opportunities there are for the system to break down and that is often the case with Microsoft. That's their core problem but the immediate emotional problem is they are increasingly unliked.

 I've recently made the transition from Microsoft to Apple and I couldn't be more delighted with the results but it doesn't mean that I'm blind to the advantages of the de facto operating system of the world. Without Microsoft I'm not even sure Apple would be as good as they are. Who knows? Nobody can prove stuff like that anyway. It's all theoretical. But in any case maybe you can take a look at the first piece of content I saw, liked and decided to write about. It's not revolutionary, but then neither is Microsoft anymore.

 Just off the top of my head I think shopping in the budget shoe store is strategically right for Microsoft. The future for the brand is one of lower entry and upgrade cost for the average user. Apple is still one of the most profitable brands on the planet because it charges a lot more. A sitcom genre is just right for mainstream America as primary customer segment (with Mexican family making a first sensible guest appearance - California is majority Latino in 10 or so years) but also for the wider world. A sitcom is quintessentially American. It's likeable, funny, comforting and about as far removed from excessive oil, corporate greed, dirty politics and war as one could wish to hope for. In short it's the best of America, and I don't even watch them so this is not a fanboy's perspective.
Seinfeld is an excellent pick.

 Microsoft is simply never ever going to be hip and so this is a mainstream ad - Any hint of hipness and the same critics calling for Crispin's blood would be accusing the brand of unreal aspirations or tonality fumbles . Think General Motors over Toyota Prius and a profile of the customer is conjured up pretty quickly. This is a comfortable way to get to know Bill Gates, a man rarely associated with humour and love him or loathe him, he comes across as likeable, keen to be liked and not without a sense of humour. I'll leave you with the lastest segment that I've only seen while writing this article and frankly I think it's close to brilliant in that way that American sitcom writers are the best in the world at. I've laughed out loud while eating in an upscale restaurant in Beijing with my fellow late afternoon diners enjoying my mirth and while I'm not prepared to go back to Windows (Indeed my next move is likely to be Linux) I'm more inclined to cut Bill Gates some slack the next time I'm sat in front of a Microsoft product running on a computer (highly likely). And maybe that's the point, maybe it's about stopping the hate and giving one of the most remarkable people (faults and all) in the history of commerce and technology some room to manouevre. I know I will. What do you think? Do you really still hate Microsoft more after watching this?

Friday 12 September 2008

The Fastest Train Service In The World

The new rail service from Beijing to Tianjin sums up everything I love about living in Asia. I had read about the service, but because of the media storm surrounding the Olympics including all the showpiece architectural projects such as the CCTV building, the Birds Nest, The Egg and of course the new T3 Airport (the best I've used aside from Changi in Singapore) I guess that this remarkable project was somewhat overshadowed.
The Purpose built new station 'Beijing South' is the same as an airport in style and appearance despite being located in the middle of one of those areas undergoing some 21st century urban regeneration. It's a bit of a pig to navigate to because of the road density in that area but on arrival it stands out like a beacon of the new Beijing. Very impressive.

Tianjin is 120 kilometres away from Beijing. It played co-host city for the soccer tournaments of the Olympics and has also been designated a special economic zone to parry the growth of Shanghai. It is also the third largest Chinese city after Beijing and Shanghai in terms of area. In short a city of 10 million plus that nobody has ever heard of. There are lots of those in China. The tickets for the journey are around 6 Euros or 60 RMB and the journey is remarkably fast. I wasn't expecting to go any faster than 250 Km/h but in the event the train topped out at 329 km/h. There is some dispute as to what defines the fastest train journey in the world but part of the equation is the regularity of service and distance between stations. There is however an amazing bit of Youtube for the fastest train journey ever over here on the French Rail service which is worth checking out.

Tianjin is a bit of an urban construction landscape with towering cranes and newly finished landmark projects. I might like living in Asia but the steroid growth of these new cities, particularly in China aren't without their victims. Usually I find that the cities are devoid of much soul, charm or character.

Who knows what his story is but I've included it to break the myth of shiny new cities. In fact I noticed on the train journey out that the primitive housing estates had been blocked off from view, probably to ensure that the Olympic guests weren't exposed to any sights of China that don't fit in with the one the Government wish to project.

Despite that, the train station for the return journey is just as splendid and modern. Taking a trip like this really makes me feel that trains are much more preferable for long journeys than by air which lost its attractiveness long before 911 took its toll on the quality for this mode of transport. 


The thing that most struck me as different from anything I've seen before on the return journey back to Beijing were the people using this state of the art new service. Anywhere else in the world I'd have expected the travellers to be similar to myself. Middle class people taking advantage of a new service and enjoying the relative luxury of travelling fast and in comfort. But what surprised me most were that the majority of Chinese travelling on the service looked like they had been yanked from the middle ages and thrust into the 21st century. That will sound elitist and snobby but it its only an observation that maybe the democracy of this type of travel opens it up to a far broader customer base than say could be expected from something like the launch of Eurostar. Maybe it's more reflective of what middle class means in China than anything else but in any event I didn't mind upgrading my ticket for the return journey and plumping for First Class (at a cost of  no more than 10 RMB) where an ice cold beer is served in a way that I could get used to. Better than Virgin no?