:::renaissance chambara:::

Posts on quality, life, culture, the media, news & tech with a twist & a slice of Limey. I moved my blog to http://renaissancehambara.jp in December 2006, go there for the latest content.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

 
There's money to be made in providing a proper service

According to a report by RSM Robson Rhodes Business Consulting called The Silent Scream of the Unloved Customer British blue-chips would make 35 per cent more profits if their businesses actually gave customers what they wanted. Looking at the FTSE100 alone, that would add up to in excess of 20 billion GBP per year. The report found that 80 per cent of customers think that companies do not fully meet their expectations. You can get the report by asking them nicely.

With 20 billion to play for in the UK alone, there's got to be a business opportunity there somewhere.

Create Social Bookmark Links

Saturday, October 30, 2004

 
Mass intermediation
Back in the day one of the buzzwords of the dotcom era for media companies and and businesses looking to get online was disintermediation. Here is whatis.com's definition:

Disintermediation is giving the user or the consumer direct access to information that otherwise would require a mediator, such as a salesperson, a librarian, or a lawyer. Observers of the Internet and the World Wide Web note that these new technologies give users the power to look up medical, legal information, travel, or comparative product data directly, in some cases removing the need for the mediator (doctor, lawyer, salesperson) or at the very least changing the relationship between the user and the product or service provider.

For the media it meant that they looked to preserve their advertising revenues by moving their publications online and in some cases substituting newspaper sales with online subscriptions. Web portals like Yahoo! and Excite! provoked debate over disintermediation in the late 1990's.
Now web bloggers and Google News have put it back on the agenda again. By going to Google News, news links could be plucked from some 5,000 English speaking sources worldwide.

With bloggers, the media moguls have realised that the process has been turned on its head with 'mass-intermediation'. They are concerned that that this eclectic link selection process will have a detrimental effect on subscriptions, readership figures and advertising revenues. Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal is taking the unprecedented step of making the US online version of the paper free for a week from November 8th to encourage take up and discussion of its content in the blogger community.

Now the news media industry feels a change brought by mass-intermediation but it is not sure how it will affect their businesses. Are blogs an online power that swarms on certain issues or stories? How should they harness the power of this online mob? I suspect that will be a very entertaining storm in a latte mug as people compare it to the punk or garage ethic, weave pointless business models around it, endlessly analyse it and compare it to fashionable theories like prosumption, social networks and communities.

There is a report from Morgan Stanley equity analyst Mary Meeker discussing the rise of blogging and how she thinks Yahoo! stands to benefit from incorporating RSS feeds from blogs into their My Yahoo! personal portal page, however that doesn't mean that it can't be easily copied by others such as MSN. Another interesting related article is at the Online Journalism Review by Mark Glaser called 'Open Season: News Sites Add Outside Links, Free Content'.

Create Social Bookmark Links
 
Webcast Gems

I recently had a look at a webcast panel filmed at the University of Berkeley, California to do with the use and abuse of science by the presidential administration of George Bush Jr. In addition to this presentation they also have some great webcasts on poetry, free speech (Berkeley had a huge role in the beatnik and hippie generations). Real player required.

Berkeley's academic rival Stanford has some interesting webcasts analysing how science and technology and will be affected by a Kerry administration or a second term for the Bush administration.

Create Social Bookmark Links

Friday, October 29, 2004

 
Good Design

When I got my copy of Real Business magazine there was a cleverly designed piece of collateral that caught my eye promoting London Innovation. Based on the theme of gaining a competitive edge, the design motif boasted the top half of 'Competitive edge' on the edge of the paper, causing you to open it up to see the rest of the writing. Inside there is copy in a landscape presented fold out booklet. The bottom flap folded into the booklet was labeled 'The bottom line'. The leaflet itself was a one colour print run in maroon and the money has gone into the staples and folds.



 
Brand Aid

The relationships between U2 and the technology sector has got progressively more tangled. Hoteliers and rock rock group U2 has seen a number tech developments. In mid June, lead singer Bono took a break from lecturing the world's politicians to become a managing partner in a new entertainment and media investment fund based out of Silicon Valley called Elevation Partners. Other managing partners include former Apple CFO Fred Anderson, Robert McNamee a Silicon Valley marketing guru and some executive from Electronic Arts.

Next you have the limited edition iPod putting them in the Apple camp (which reminded me of the Claudia Schiffer Palm Vx) and then you have their new tour sponsored by Intel? Go figure. I am not too sure how this will affect the U2 brand image and how it will benefit their partners? I recall the slating the Rolling Stones got from their fans for hanging with with Bill Gates and helping launch Windows '95 to the tune of 'Start me up'.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

 
Jargon Watch

Much has been made of the 'word of the year' : Chav - a kind of decrepid, foul mouthed shell suited degenerate youth as emblematic of the the noughties UK as Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney was in the eighties.

Apparently the word for the year of my birth was 'hypermarket', hmmm. More details courtesy of GQ magazine here.

 
Strategy for Volatile Times

The end of the summer heralded the arrival of three management related documents on my desk, my review of the materials by
Forrester and CurrentAnalysis can be read here.

The McKinsey Quarterly reader 'Strategy for Volatile Times' was the hardest to analyse since it had a selection of different areas that it focused on loosely bound by the title of 'Strategy for Volatile Times'. It reminded me of a executive fortune cookie jar or the track listings of those 'Now that's what I call music' compilations from the 1980's.

Interesting points

I found the 'Managing for improved corporate performance' article by Lowell L Bryan and Ron Hulme most interesting. First they make the first assumption that 'for a company to perform well' (what I assume they mean by corporate performance) 'Any definitions must revolve around the notion of results that meet or exceed the expectations of shareholders.' Basically the thinking is defensive, about husbanding resources and defending the company's existing position (value rather than growth). So don't look for people who follow this credo to develop the next market killer like the iPod. With this in mind the authors tried to provide an engine for innovation within the company by recommending a regular review process called a 'corporate performance council' of senior executives to meet monthly to get the school reports on ongoing projects and filter out new ones for promotion. This is similar to the existing processes done already at large corporates such as Shell. It also stacks the dice against the geeks and boffins who hold the key to many of the 'insanely great' ideas.

Their model for corporate performance is what they call BASICS:
  • Build new businesses - (apparently focusing on your core competences is now out of fashion in management consultancy circles). Much of this approach could be construed to be more indicative of a growth focused company rather than value focused
  • Adapt the core - make sure that the core business keeps up changing times and keys into your new businesses as necessary
  • Shape the portfolio and ownership structure - actively manage the business of M&As, divestitures and financial restructures to maximise shareholder value
  • Keep an eye on crucial strategic functions

No, I don't have a clue how they got BASICS out of that lot either. Secondly, is it me, or are the critical BASICS activities listed above the ones that would be like wasps round a jam pot for the big consultant firms like McKinsey?




Wednesday, October 27, 2004

 
Politics and organised crime

Old Joe Kennedy was involved in bootlegging, his son John Fitzgerald Kennedy is alleged to have shared a mistress with a mafia boss and allegedly killed in an organised crime / conservative / military industrial complex conspiracy. Following on this great tradition of crime and politics moving down the isle like a bride and groom at a shotgun wedding is the latest revelations of mafia soldiers funding the Bush-Cheney ticket. You can see it now, graft on waste disposal and reconstruction contracts in the Middle East, taking back the heroin trade from the Taliban and the Feds keeping their noses out of mob business, payola payments getting Dean Martin remixes into the heavy rotation lists on Clear Channel stations, The Soprano's taken off air in a bout of rare political correctness for Italian Americans and the government chasing real criminals like suicide bombers instead. More details from the Smoking Gun here.

 
Back to Basics

I am reasonably tech savvy, I have been on email for ten years and used a mobile phone number for a decade and a half. However I have found myself sliding my mobile technology back in time. Last year I had a 3 mobile phone, on the UK's first 3G network. It was shocking. I then had a traumatic move to Orange and got given a Nokia 6600.

The Nokia 6600 is not a bad phone, but I don't need a colour screen or camera, I occasionally read my home emails on the phone and get texts. However, the phone is bulky and the battery runs out after two days. Finally I decided enough was enough and have gone back in time from a a technology terms to go with a 2000 vintage design Nokia 8850. Its small, it texts, you can speak to people, its intuitive to use and the battery lasts a week, oh yeah it has a need aluminium shell and a sliding key cover.

The 8850 is an elegant solution to my communications needs, the point is that I have gone back in tech time because the present offerings fail to meet my needs of:
  • being intuitive to use
  • easy to call and text
  • good battery life
  • good product design
  • small / discreet
  • no unnecessary items


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

 
The Silicon Valley Cartel

Andy Kessler's Running Money
is a well written set of memoirs from a technology fund manager. Together with his partner-in-crime Fred Kittler, Kessler managed to survive the highs and lows of the technology industry in the late 1990's, he tells the story in a very articulate way that is as powerful as Robert X Cringely's book Accidential Empires. The expansion of the tech sector is told using the industrial revolution as an analogy.
One of the first things that strikes you is that the tech sector actually revolves around a relatively small group of people

In addition to writing his memoirs Kessler tries to make sense of it all and proves very illuminating to readers; in this respect it is far better than The New New Thing by Michael Lewis. In addition, the book looks beyond the technology sector to put a positive spin on the huge US deficit. Kessler explains that America is now an IP economy and assumes that the developing world will follow on behind as a wave sweeps across national borders moving the economic status through hunter gatherer, agriculture/extractive, industrial, service and intellectual property economies. In some respects the US with its IP economy is following Europe; what is the Swiss banking system, LVMH's luxury brands and the continents big pharmaceutical firms if not part of an IP ecosystem?

I would recommend anybody to read Kessler's book. I thought I would end however on some of the differences in viewpoint I have with his writing. Where some of Kessler's writing differs from my own perspective is when he outlines his analysis of the current state of affairs and some of his future vision:
  • Kessler considers markets to be a perfect instrument in the long term; which I am not convinced about at all. Think the great depression, the S&L debacle of the 1980s for instance, markets can break and require occasional interference
  • The neat model of China being an industrial workshop for US intellectual property is simplistic. China is fast moving into building its own brands from mobile handsets to luxury watches (the first Chinese astronaut went into space with a relative expensive Chinese brand of chronograph. China and India has a huge film industry. It isn't only China either, Japan is now a source of numerous fashion trends, hot movies in Korea have their scripts optioned by Hollywood, some of the best advertising creative teams come from South America and India)
  • Kessler talks about the entertainment industry as being part of this US IP powerhouse but this fails to see the many flaws and mismanagment in the music, media and film industries that make Worldcom seem well managed. The RIAA and MPAA have hid behind piracy to hide a deeper malaise highlighted in Michael Wolf's Autumn of the Moguls
  • Kessler doesn't talk about what the inevitable post-intellectual property economy looks like

 
Heavy Rotation

Choice vinyl currently gracing the turntables and enjoying heavy rotation at chez r.c are:

  • Market House vs Natural Rhythm - Treat you sweet - Detour West coast in the the house. Quality production from the California based house music label with some nice vocals.
  • Johnny Fiasco - South of the border ep - Agave Johnny has a number of rocking tunes representing the west coast house sound at the moment. Agave is not a label I was familar with but has now being added to the watch list for the new hotness.
  • Woody Braun and Allonymous - Finding words ain't easy - Most Records Nice acid influenced mixes straight out of France with more jumping up and down power than most jackin' trax
  • Shur-i-kan - Waypoints ep - Freerange Records Some jacking style house for the noughties with Brett Johnson on the mix, lovely desolate artwork too that fits the atmospherics of the record well.
  • Ron Legend$ presents - The Legend$ ep - Nigel Records Taking a leaf out of Paul Raymond's book, this record raids the crates providing a re-tempoised version of the Nick Straker Band's - A little bit of jazz. Originally an early 1980s club classic played in seminal New York and Chicago Warehouse, Paradise Garage and the Fun House that led to the house music revolution the wheel has turned full circle. The work has been done in a sympathetic way to the original and it is a testament to the Nick Straker band that the synth lines, vocals and groove sound so modern.
  • Marc Moulin - Silver - Blue Note Records Jazzzz. Blue Note is the legendary jazz label with a reputation for quality and this track has jazz in spades. the Groove Warrior mix is DJ and dancefloor friendly
  • Dope Twins - Community Recordings remix - Dope Great house groover on artist's own label.
  • Swirl Peepz - Lotta fun - Odds and Ends Music Deep house out of spook central (Fairfax Virginia, home of the NSA). Great grooves, nuff said.
  • Vibezelect - Do what you know - Compu_Sol Deep house with real atmosphere, especially the Vienna Sol Remix.



Monday, October 25, 2004

 
Geek Stuff

A couple of things from the web that are of interest. Segway the people with the fancy technology and a scooter that no one wants may have a card up their sleeves. The Segway Centaur is a concept that they are checking peoples reaction to. Its an electric quad that can be handled like a mountain bike. Your can see it in halting web video here.

For a mix of pranks and wonder check out a new site called Hack-a-day. The site is designed to collect the best hacks from around the web for you. Make your own lava lamp, or run Mac OS X on an XBox anybody?

Sunday, October 24, 2004

 
Quick Link

I found this radio station that cranks out oldstyle radio plays on MP3 despite the adverts for George Bush, though the spoof Live365 adverts are brilliant.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

 
October's Last Steve Ballmer and iPod Post

As you can see from looking at the blog archive Steve Ballmer and his comments on the iPod have made a bit of a stir and got this humble blog some outside links. After all the hullaballoo I was sent this flash animation that makes fun of Steve's famous motivational speech to Microsoft developers and the the silouette iPod adverts.

Respect to Macboy

Friday, October 22, 2004

 
renaissance chambara's recommendation on the presidential election November 2nd

Yeah like as if we are going to tell you how to vote! We've seen the frenzied reaction of Democrats to the Chicago Tribune's nomination of Dubya, so only the Good Lord himself knows what would happen if they had not endorsed the Charlton Heston fan club.

Links: Who endorses who here





 
Cutting Edge

I recently took a trip to the British Museum with culture vulture Steve, mostly to have a look at the visiting Cutting Edge exhibition of Japanese handiwork through the ages. The building itself has real presence and would be familiar to anybody who has read the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel series by Alan Moore. Inside the museum it is a curious mix of artefacts that reminded me of the V&A, but much less cluttered. In fact, the museum itself is as much of the exhibition as the items within.

Highlights
  • The central courtyard with its spectacular roof, the polygon structure of it reminded me of playing Tank Attack on an arcade machine as a youngster. The scale is very impressive
  • The visiting display of Japanese swords in the Minolta Konica section of the museum is really cool
  • The reading room in the central courtyard never fails to impress
Low lights
  • The restaurant was on the pricey side, but there are plenty of good restaurants and cafes nearby
  • Despite signage that is streets ahead of the V&A we did get lost
  • The tourist trap shops outside the museum are pretty grim and the shops within the museum are not much better

Thursday, October 21, 2004

 
The English Disease

In the 1970's through to the present day the English Disease referred to the reputation of a small minority of football supporters from England with a penchant for violent behaviour, the likes of which has not been seen in the US since the Rodney King riots.

Within the technology sector there is another English Disease, this has been touched upon by Mike King, managing director of Johnson King in this op-ed which ran in Tuesday's FT Creative Business. I would argue that it merits as much if not more attention as the organised violence of English football hooligans as is gnaws away at the future prosperity of the UK.

This disease is a chronic lack of ambition and vision and manifests itself in different ways:
  • Mike complains that British start-ups are reluctant to invest in marketing and PR to enhance their reputation and grow their business. They often do not recognise the value of it and even where they do, the pathetically low budget put into marketing is below the critical mass required to deliver results. There is a similar attitude whether the management team are novices or drawing down a serious package as an 'experienced entrepreneur'. Yet the most respected businessman for these people would be Richard Branson; a modern-day Barnum who built his empire with large doses of shameless self-promotion. Mike owning a PR agency was particularly interested in this aspect of the equation! However this is only a small part of the picture.
  • Funding is not forthcoming; venture capital in the technology sector is based on trying to achieve a ten-fold return on the money. UK start-ups have lower expectations of themselves, they do not share their American colleagues dreams of being the next Oracle, Apple, Microsoft or IBM. Consequently the technology business is trapped in a self reinforcing prophetic circle, a black hole with an expanding event horizon sucking away the vision and dreams. This in turn encourages the fund managers to husband their limited cash as much as they can by cutting back on 'unnecessary expenditure' on things like marketing and looking for an early exit strategy through acquisition or technology licencing agreements. It is not because the UK does not have the expertise and the smarts:
  1. US chip pioneer LSI Logic was founded by Wilf Corrigan, a Liverpool docker's son made good
  2. Apple Computer's sizzle is in large part to a product design team headed by Geordie designer Jonathan Ives who has designed every successful product from the original bondi blue iMac to the latest iPods
  3. Cambridge boffin Alan Turing was arguably the inventor of first programmable computer and laid down the defining test for true artificial intelligence
  4. LCDs: liquid crystals were invented in the UK, but made Japanese companies rich

The problem is that the disease is pervasive, it affects the value of houses, how much your future pension is going to be worth and what jobs the UK citizens of tomorrow are likely to have. The FTSE has underperformed US rivals for the past decade because it does not have its share of high-growth technology companies. Vodafone and mmO2 is just a seller of wireless services, just as much a merchant as supermarket chain Tesco, Lastminute.com is an e-tailer echoing the Napoleonic-era cliche of Britain as a nation of shopkeepers. ARM Holdings, the UK's leading chip company, is a chip designer that can barely be described as a medium-sized enterprise. Software company Autonomy is noticable only for its lack of peers. Cambridge's Silicon Fen is actually a laughable Silicon Sahara with precious few oasises.

With such a poor technology sector, money for investment sloshes around in management buyouts (with the intention of trying to squeeze more value out of mature businesses), a cash bloated property market and overseas where entrepreneurs generally have more vision. Thus setting the UK up for economic underachievement ad infinitum. Instead the UK will be an economy based on the export of a small amount of golf sweaters, rainwear, antiques and pre-prepared curry cooking sauces. It would be side splittingly funny if it wasn't so tragic.


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

 
Back from the Dead

Once upon a time over six years ago, I started my PR agency career with an organisation called The Weber Group. This was formed by a straight talking marketer called Larry Weber, by the time I joined the business had been wildly successful in the US and had been bought by the Interpublic Group (IPG).

Well all empires come to an end and IPG's retrenchment involved restating of financial results and merging businesses into each other and watching the assets of the business walk out the door to competitors. Larry left and then the other week came back from the wilderness with W2 Group. Watch this space.

Another return, is Google's taking back the lead from A9.com as to who is the most useful search engine. Google Print allows users to search publications and get recommendations on where to buy the original here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

 
State of the industry

Some statistics released by Artemis for the UK technology PR sector:

Every quarter, we systematically research the top 1,000 tech companies as part of the Artemis survey and here are some interesting facts:
Between July and September 2004:
* £8 million (est.) worth of new business was won
* 89 companies changed their PR consultancy
* 119 companies (12%) changed either their head of marketing or their head of PR - or both!
* 12 companies merged with or were acquired by another company


Monday, October 18, 2004

 
Liars Poker Personal Edition

RTE programme Primetime carried a great introduction to a scandal in the UK and Ireland that mirrors the Savings and Loans scandal that gripped the US in the 1980's. During the 1980's, Savings and Loans companies (kind of equivalent to building societies in the UK and Ireland) bought complex financial products that they did not understand. Many of these blew up in their faces taking down their institutions, while the large banks such as Solomon Smith Barney and Goldman Sachs made fortunes of trading commissions, advice fees and various revenue opportunities from assembling these financial timebombs. Michael Lewis documented is process in his book Liars Poker.

The same thing that happened to big money happened to individual homeowners in the UK and Ireland. People seeking a home loan were sold an interest only loan and a life policy that would pay off the principal and leave them allegedly with a bonus at the end. Much of the projections were over optimistic, the financial institutions got fat off transaction fees, commission, setting up charges and fund management fees. The first years endowment premiums on a 25-year loan went in fees, often the cost of the transactions were masked from the consumer.

Now financial institutions have had to write to consumers telling them how much of a shortfall they will owe at the end of their policy. In many casese it is alleged that the companies willingly missold the financial products to customers with data that ther actuaries knew to be false. This situation has also encouraged a breed of jackals who buy early surrender policies from distressed home owners and fund them through to completion in expectation of a more realistic return. The home owners have already taken a hit upfront on all fees associated with the endowment policy.

For those of you who have got a bit hot under the collar over all the swindling we have gone on about, I would recommend having a look at Akiyoshi Kitaoka's photographs of Japan. They are absolutely stunning.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

 
Interesting Opinion Piece in New York Times

First of all I have to point out that the New York Times editorial team have come out in favour of presidential candidate John Kerry, but that does not take away from many of the points made by Frank Rich. Rich argues that the media in the US is not functioning as an effective organ in US society. It is not questioning, not investigating and not challenging the status quo in order to keep its audience well informed.

In addition to Fox News, long cited as a vassal of the Bush administration Rich covers many more examples and hopes to see more Woodward and Bernstein's. Having read All The Presidents Men, and its follow-up The Final Days for much of the time the journalists were a lone voice in the wilderness.

Who is Frank Rich?

From his agent's site: Frank Rich was named Associate Editor of The New York Times in January 2003 and began writing a weekly essay running as a column on the front page of the Sunday Arts & Leisure section that March. In keeping with The Times practice of having associate editors assist in planning the journalistic undertakings of the paper, Mr. Rich also serves as an adviser on the paper’s overall cultural news report.

Mr. Rich was previously a columnist on the Op-Ed Page starting in January 1994. In 1999, he began writing a 1,400-word opinion piece that ran on the Op-Ed Page every other Saturday (instead of the 700-word piece that ran twice a week) and was given the additional title of senior writer for The New York Times Magazine. The dual title was a first for The Times and allowed Mr. Rich to explore a variety of topics at greater length than before. His columns and articles in each venue have drawn from his background as a theater critic and observer of art, entertainment and politics.

Prior to writing his column, Mr. Rich served as The Times’s chief drama critic beginning in 1980, the year he joined The Times. During the Presidential campaign year of 1992, Mr. Rich joined with The Times’s Washington reporter, Maureen Dowd, to write a daily column at the political conventions, repeating the assignment for Inauguration week in Washington in January 1993.

In addition to his work at The Times, Mr. Rich has written about culture and politics for many other publications. His latest book, a childhood memoir titled Ghost Light, was published in 2000 by Random House and as a Random House Trade Paperback in 2001. The film rights to Ghost Light have been acquired by Storyline Entertainment. A collection of Mr. Rich’s drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993, was published by Random House in October 1998. His book, “The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson,” co-authored with Lisa Aronson, was published by Knopf in 1987.

Before joining The Times, Mr. Rich was a film and television critic at Time magazine. Earlier, he had been film critic for the New York Post and film critic and senior editor of New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970’s.

Born on June 2, 1949 in Washington, D.C., Mr. Rich is a graduate of its public schools. He earned a B.A. degree in American History and Literature graduating magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1971. At Harvard, he was editorial chairman of The Harvard Crimson, an honorary Harvard College scholar, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the recipient of a Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellowship.

Mr. Rich has two sons. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, the author and novelist Alex Witchel, who is a reporter for The New York Times.

New York Times
October 17, 2004
FRANK RICH

Will We Need a New 'All the President's Men'?

UCH is the power of movies that the first image "Watergate" brings to mind three decades later is not Richard Nixon so much as the golden duo of Redford and Hoffman riding to the nation's rescue in "All the President's Men." But if our current presidency is now showing symptoms of a precancerous Watergate syndrome - as it is, daily - we have not yet reached that denouement immortalized by Hollywood, in which our scrappy heroes finally bring Nixon to heel in his second term. No, we're back instead in the earlier reels of his first term, before the criminality of the Watergate break-in, when no one had heard of Woodward and Bernstein. Back then an arrogant and secretive White House, furious at the bad press fueled by an unpopular and mismanaged war, was still flying high as it kneecapped with impunity any reporter or news organization that challenged its tightly enforced message of victory at hand.

It was then that the vice president, Spiro Agnew, scripted by the speechwriter Pat Buchanan, tried to discredit the press as an elite - or, as he spelled it out, "a tiny, enclosed fraternity of privileged men." It was then that the attorney general, John Mitchell, under the pretext of national security, countenanced wiretaps of Hedrick Smith of The Times and Marvin Kalb of CBS News, as well as a full F.B.I. investigation of CBS's Daniel Schorr. Today it's John Ashcroft's Justice Department, also invoking "national security," that hopes to seize the phone records of Judith Miller and Philip Shenon of The Times, claiming that what amounts to a virtual wiretap is warranted by articles about Islamic charities and terrorism published nearly three years ago.

"The fundamental right of Americans, through our free press, to penetrate and criticize the workings of our government is under attack as never before," wrote William Safire last month. When an alumnus of the Nixon White House says our free press is being attacked as "never before," you listen. What alarms him now are the efforts of Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame-Robert Novak affair, to threaten reporters at The Times and Time magazine with jail if they don't reveal their sources. Given that the Times reporter in question (Judith Miller again) didn't even write an article on the subject under investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald overreaches so far that he's created a sci-fi plot twist out of Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report."

It's all the scarier for being only one piece in a pattern of media intimidation that's been building for months now. Once Woodward and Bernstein did start investigating Watergate, Nixon plotted to take economic revenge by siccing the Federal Communications Commission on TV stations owned by The Washington Post's parent company. The current White House has been practicing pre-emptive media intimidation to match its policy of pre-emptive war. Its F.C.C. chairman, using Janet Jackson's breast and Howard Stern's mouth as pretexts, has sufficiently rattled Viacom, which broadcast both of these entertainers' infractions against "decency," that its chairman, the self-described "liberal Democrat" Sumner Redstone, abruptly announced his support for the re-election of George W. Bush last month. "I vote for what's good for Viacom," he explained, and he meant it. He took this loyalty oath just days after the "60 Minutes" fiasco prompted a full-fledged political witch hunt on Viacom's CBS News, another Republican target since the Nixon years. Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, has threatened to seek Congressional "safeguards" regulating TV news content and, depending what happens Nov. 2, he may well have the political means to do it.

Viacom is hardly the only media giant cowed by the prospect that this White House might threaten its corporate interests if it gets out of line. Disney's refusal to release Michael Moore's partisan "Fahrenheit 9/11" in an election year would smell less if the company applied the same principle to its ABC radio stations, where the equally partisan polemics of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are heard every day. Even a low-profile film project in conflict with Bush dogma has spooked the world's largest media company, Time Warner, proprietor of CNN. Its Warner Brothers, about to release a special DVD of "Three Kings," David O. Russell's 1999 movie criticizing the first gulf war, suddenly canceled a planned extra feature, a new Russell documentary criticizing the current war. Whether any of these increasingly craven media combines will stand up to the Bush administration in a constitutional pinch, as Katharine Graham and her Post Company bravely did to the Nixon administration during Watergate, is a proposition that hasn't been remotely tested yet.

To understand what kind of journalism the Bush administration expects from these companies, you need only look at those that are already its collaborators. Fox News speaks loudly for itself, to the point of posting on its Web site an article by its chief political correspondent containing fictional John Kerry quotes. (After an outcry, it was retracted as "written in jest.") But Fox is just the tip of the Rupert Murdoch empire. When The New York Post covered the release of the report by the C.I.A.'s chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, it played the story on page 8 and didn't get to the clause "while no stockpiles of W.M.D. were found in Iraq" until the 16th paragraph. This would be an Onion parody were it not deadly serious.

It's hard to imagine an operation more insidious than Mr. Murdoch's, but the Sinclair Broadcast Group may be it. The owner or operator of 62 TV stations nationwide, including affiliates of all four major broadcast networks, this company gets little press scrutiny because it is invisible in New York City, Washington and Los Angeles, where it has no stations. But Sinclair, whose top executives have maxed out as Bush contributors, was first smoked out of the shadows last spring when John McCain called it "unpatriotic" for ordering its eight ABC stations not to broadcast the "Nightline" in which Ted Koppel read the names of the then 721 American casualties in Iraq. This was the day after Paul Wolfowitz had also downsized American casualties by testifying before Congress that they numbered only about 500.

Thanks to Elizabeth Jensen of The Los Angeles Times, who first broke the story last weekend, we now know that Sinclair has grander ambitions for the election. It has ordered all its stations, whose most powerful reach is in swing states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, to broadcast a "news" special featuring a film, "Stolen Honor," that trashes Mr. Kerry along the lines of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads. The film's creator is a man who spent nearly eight years in the employ of Tom Ridge. Sinclair has ordered that it be run in prime time during a specific four nights in late October, when it is likely to be sandwiched in with network hits like "CSI," "The Apprentice" and "Desperate Housewives." Democrats are screaming, but don't expect the Bush apparatchiks at federal agencies to pursue their complaints as if they were as serious as a "wardrobe malfunction." A more likely outcome is that Sinclair, which already reaches 24 percent of American viewers, will reap the regulatory favors it is seeking to expand that audience in a second Bush term.

Like the Nixon administration before it, the Bush administration arrived at the White House already obsessed with news management and secrecy. Nixon gave fewer press conferences than any president since Hoover; Mr. Bush has given fewer than any in history. Early in the Nixon years, a special National Press Club study concluded that the president had instituted "an unprecedented, government-wide effort to control, restrict and conceal information." Sound familiar? The current president has seen to it that even future historians won't get access to papers he wants to hide; he quietly gutted the Presidential Records Act of 1978, the very reform enacted by Congress as a post-Watergate antidote to pathological Nixonian secrecy.

The path of the Bush White House as it has moved from Agnew-style press baiting to outright assault has also followed its antecedent. The Nixon administration's first legal attack on the press, a year before the Watergate break-in, was its attempt to stop The Times and The Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers, the leaked internal Defense Department history of our failure in Vietnam. Though 9/11 prompted Ari Fleischer's first effort to warn the media to "watch what they say," it's failure in Iraq that has pushed the Bush administration over the edge. It was when Operation Iraqi Freedom was bogged down early on that it spun the fictional saga of Jessica Lynch. It's when the percentage of Americans who felt it was worth going to war in Iraq fell to 50 percent in the Sept. 2003 Gallup poll, down from 73 that April, that identically worded letters "signed" by different soldiers mysteriously materialized in 11 American newspapers, testifying that security for Iraq's citizens had been "largely restored." (As David Greenberg writes in his invaluable "Nixon's Shadow," phony letters to news outlets were also a favorite Nixon tactic.) The legal harassment of the press, like the Republican party's Web-driven efforts to discredit specific journalists even at non-CBS networks, has escalated in direct ratio to the war's decline in support.

"What you're seeing on your TV screens," the president said when minimizing the Iraq insurgency in May, are "the desperate tactics of a hateful few." Maybe that's the sunny news that can be found on a Sinclair station. Now, with our election less than three weeks away, the bad news coming out of Iraq everywhere else is a torrent. Reporters at virtually every news organization describe a downward spiral so dangerous that they can't venture anywhere in Iraq without risking their lives. Last weekend marines spoke openly and by name to Steve Fainaru of The Washington Post about the quagmire they're witnessing firsthand and its irrelevance to battling Al Qaeda, whose 9/11 attack motivated many of them to enlist in the first place. "Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better," said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day." Another marine, Lance Cpl. Alexander Jones of Ball Ground, Ga., told Mr. Fainaru: "We're basically proving out that the government is wrong. We're catching them in a lie." Asked if he was concerned that he and his buddies might be punished for speaking out, Cpl. Brandon Autin of New Iberia, La., responded: "What are they going to do - send us to Iraq?"

What "they" can do is try to intimidate, harass, discredit and prosecute news organizations that report stories like this. If history is any guide, and the hubris of re-election is tossed into the mix, that harrowing drama can go on for a long time before we get to the feel-good final act of "All the President's Men."

 
Sucker Punch From a Dot.Bomb
I went to my friend Jo's wedding the other month and later wrote on this blog about The Gift Registry: a wedding present service that seemed like a good idea at the time. The high concept was that the site kept the wedding list online which could be compiled from items stocked by a number of good quality department stores. Guests bought the bride and groom gifts they wanted, the company delivered and the wedding was less hassle from a gift wrapping and carting the present to and from the venue point of view.

Today I received an email from the bride and groom that the business had gone bankrupt together with advice to get a refund from my credit card company.

In my phone call with Jo what surprised her was that a dot.com with a sensible business proposition could go under, we are so used to dot.com being part of the mainstream shopping experience now that many people tend to forget that in the late 1990s Amazon was making a five dollar loss on each shipment. A similarly good prospect was CD retailer Boxman.com, who purchased CDs from the cheapest legitimate suppliers across Europe, and distributed centrally from a warehouse in the Netherlands, they then passed on some of the savings to the customer. Boxman was let down in the operational department by poorly implemented software from IBM. Travel site and gift e-tailer lastminute.com improved dramatically with the appointment of retail management guru Alan Leighton as chairman. The moral is that even with a winning business idea, operations expertise and processes are critical.

Here is a link to an article on the demise of The Gift Registry from Accountancy Age.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

 
Interesting Article on Privacy in Washington Post

Kudos to Dave Farber of the Interesting People email list for flagging this up and The Washington Post for continuing to do good investigative journalism:

Bahamas Firm Screens Personal Data To Assess Risk
Operation Avoids U.S. Privacy Rules

By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 16, 2004; Page A01

It began as one of the Bush administration's most ambitious homeland security efforts, a passenger screening program designed to use commercial records, terrorist watch lists and computer software to assess millions of travelers and target those who might pose a threat.

The system has cost almost $100 million. But it has not been turned on because it sparked protests from lawmakers and civil liberties advocates, who said it intruded too deeply into the lives of ordinary Americans. The Bush administration put off testing until after the election.

Now the choreographer of that program, a former intelligence official named Ben H. Bell III, is taking his ideas to a private company offshore, where he and his colleagues plan to use some of the same concepts, technology and contractors to assess people for risk, outside the reach of U.S. regulators, according to documents and interviews.

Bell's new employer, the Bahamas-based Global Information Group Ltd., intends to amass large databases of international records and analyze them in the coming years for corporations, government agencies and other information services. One of the first customers is information giant LexisNexis Group, one of the main contractors on the government system that was known until recently as the second generation of the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening Program, or CAPPS II. The program is now known as Secure Flight.

The company plans to do such things as assess foreign job candidates for risk, conduct background checks on cargo ship crews or take stock of people who want to open bank accounts in the United States, documents and interviews show. It also will provide something the company calls "terrorist risk identity assessment," a company document shows.

Bell and his business associates said they are trying to fill wide gaps in existing commercial databases that enable criminals and terrorists to roam the globe, sometimes under false identities. Company founder Donald Thibeau, a former LexisNexis executive, said he formed Global Information in the island nation to take advantage of regulations there that he thinks will make it easier to collect data than in the United States, which has a hodgepodge of information and privacy laws that he said would making doing business far more costly.

"You can realize the CAPPS dream in the commercial world," Thibeau said. "We live in a world where data can go anywhere and be warehoused anywhere."

Legal and privacy specialists said the company raises troubling new questions about the ability of computers -- in both the government and private sectors -- to collect and analyze personal information for homeland security. These critics said Global's initiative echoes the aims of the troubled government passenger-screening system, as well as another controversial program at the Defense Department that was shut down by Congress called Total Information Awareness.

An important difference from those programs, these critics said, is that Global operates in private hands, offshore and beyond the oversight that stymied the government programs. "As a business matter, there are layers of legal protections and public relations protections they can get by going offshore," Peter P. Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University and privacy counselor in the Clinton administration. "It might meet business interests, but not necessarily the public interest."

Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, said he worries that Global will become a contractor for government work that government officials could not get backing to do themselves. "He is making a highly controversial program more controversial," Lewis said about Bell. "Now he's doing it offshore and making money off of it."

The effort comes at a sensitive time in the debate about the use of personal information for screening and profiling, as law enforcement and intelligence authorities embrace commercial databases and other technology like never before to fight the war on terror. The Senate recently approved legislation that would wire together hundreds or thousands of local, state, federal and commercial data systems. But that "information-sharing environment" would be accompanied by complex rules to govern the proposed network's use and prevent abuses.

Company officials said they are not trying to evade scrutiny. They contend that Bahamian law also protects privacy but is not as cumbersome as U.S. regulations. They said the company's location will help them collect information from abroad because businesses and information brokers would be more likely to ship electronic records to the Bahamas than to the United States. Commercial information services in the United States have billions of records about Americans, but far fewer about people living abroad. Bell and Thibeau argue their services will eventually make the United States and other countries safer.

"The intent was not to run offshore and hide stuff," said Bell, Global's chief executive. He left the government at the end of March as director of the Office of National Risk Assessment, which ran the aviation screening program, and previously served as an intelligence official with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "Global information is the brass ring."

Global was registered as an international business company in the Bahamas two years ago. It recently received a license to conduct business on the islands. Thibeau also registered an entity in Delaware called Global Information Group. It is part of a broad push by businesses and governments to examine digital personal histories more closely in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Some of these efforts are driven by mandates in the USA Patriot Act that require banks and other companies to be more vigilant -- in some cases, by sending customer information to the government. The data-analysis efforts also are part of initiatives designed to minimize companies' exposure to lawsuits or insurance claims.

Global wants to work as a partner to large information services like LexisNexis. Thibeau said such companies can run into obstacles trying to gather international data themselves. For instance, critics in Latin America accused another large information service in the United States, ChoicePoint Inc., also a government contractor, of spying when it became public that the company was buying databases of information about citizens in Mexico and other countries. ChoicePoint officials said they were misled by unscrupulous data brokers, who sold information that should not have been sold.

"We're experimenting in places they can't," Thibeau said of the large data companies. "They have too much to lose."

In interviews, company officials said Global is working with the government in the Bahamas and other nations. Bell said he has had only informal contacts with U.S. government officials.

The company's work could involve some of the same contractors hired to build the U.S. government's screening system, documents and interviews show. LexisNexis, for instance, hired Global as a consultant to explore the viability of using the Bahamas as a base for collecting international information, officials said.

A subsidiary of Britain-based Reed Elsevier Group PLC, LexisNexis is known for its databases of legal and news documents. But it has also taken on major roles in homeland security initiatives. It recently paid $775 million for Seisint Inc., another information company that created the Matrix computer system used by law enforcement authorities for counterterrorism and criminal investigations.

One LexisNexis executive who worked closely with Bell while he was in government is Norman A. Willox Jr., the chief officer for privacy, industry and regulatory affairs at LexisNexis. Willox worked with Bell on the aviation screening project. He and LexisNexis also worked with Bell on a previous counterterrorism project at the Department of Justice, shortly after the terror attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Willox and Bell participated in industry and academic discussions about the growing need for collecting international information. In February, the two men traveled to the Bahamas, where they met Erik Russell, the general manager for Cable Bahamas, a firm that manages an island fiber-optic network, according to Willox and Russell. "They were hoping to open a business in the Bahamas and hoping we would provide bandwidth," Russell said. "My understanding is, they're going to need a lot of bandwidth."

In an interview, Bell said he went to the Bahamas on vacation and did not attend the meeting. But Willox and Russell said Bell was there, though Willox said Bell did not participate in the discussion. Willox said he himself was representing LexisNexis during the discussions.

Federal rules generally restrict public employees from engaging in outside business that might conflict with work they oversee, according to government ethics regulations. Bell said he did not become involved with Global until after he left government in March.

After Bell left the government, Willox helped arrange the lease for a Global office in Maryland, near where Bell lived; when asked about the arrangement, Thibeau said Willox did so as a personal favor because he lives in the area and knows the landlord.

It was not long after he left government that Bell was named chief executive of Global. Several weeks later, in June, LexisNexis sponsored a symposium in the Bahamas that featured the company. Attending the event were financiers, a private investigator, technology executives, Willox, LexisNexis lobbyists and Bahamian leaders, documents show. Also attending were contractors from at least three other companies that worked with Bell on the government's passenger "risk assessment program," documents from the meeting show.

In a statement prepared for the event, Allyson Maynard-Gibson, the Bahamian minister of financial services and investment, extolled efforts to build a "state-of-the-art facility" with data centers and a high-speed telecommunications network. This has "resulted in the development of a new industry to manage, process and store information in a safe and secure environment so that it is easily retrievable when needed," she said.

Along with new business development on the island, "all of this makes it seem natural," Maynard-Gibson's statement said, "for Grand Bahama to become an important through point for the movement of international data."

 
Growth Crusader

Andy Kessler has been a banker, analyst and fund manager. Through all this experience has a growth investor, that is someone who invests in what might be rather than a value investor. A value investor is someone who invests in companies that work hard to husband what they have already and try not to rock the boat too much.

Andy is a smart guy, smart enough to admit that he is fallable, he also writes a mean bit of copy. I am working through his book Running Money and will post a review when I have finished. In the meantime I'll give you a link to Andy's blog so you can see for yourself.


Friday, October 15, 2004

 
Tribes, youth marketing and Japan

I thought I would flag up a couple of articles on youth culture and spending power. First up is the FT's article on Japan, my initial thoughts on this was that it is deemed ok for men to be collectors of watches, model trains sets, art, records etc in the west, with the weekend edition of the FT having details about the markets for different collectibles. But with Japanese young people it is alluded to early on in the article as a fetish.

By Mariko Sanchanta Published: October 14 2004 03:00 Last updated: October 14 2004 03:00

Yayoi, a 24-year-old who works in an office at a Japanese company, is obsessed with stars. In a homemade video, she shows off her star candles, a star barrette and even an ear cleaner adorned with a star charm. "Stars make me feel happy, because I feel as though their radiance is somehow transferred to me," she says earnestly to the camera. And then: "When it comes to stars, money is no object." Some might say Yayoi's star fetish borders on monomania, but in Japan there is a name for such a product fanatic: otaku. Increasingly, these individuals are regarded as a normal - if not necessary - component of Japan's cultural fabric.

Advertisers and marketers are waking up to the swathes of young people in Japan who belong to "tribes" or subcultures and have a great deal of money to spend on items they feel help define their lifestyle. "Fourteen years ago when I started giving presentations about otaku, it was written up at that time in the Japanese press as possibly the greatest threat to society ever known," says David McCaughan, director of strategic planning at McCann-Erickson in Tokyo. "These were weird, obsessed kids who spent hours each day researching one subject on their computers. Well, we now call that normal."

McCann-Erickson, the global advertising giant, has launched a specialist communications service called Tag Tokyo. The Tag format was first established by McCann in New York last year, and targets the youth market of 18-28-year-olds. "It's not easy to understand today's complex youth only through regular group interviews," says Yutaka Tsuda, a twenty-something Tag Tokyo strategic planner with coiffed hair and baggy clothes, part of the 10-strong Tokyo Tag team."Tsuda-san used to look just like me before he joined Tag," says the suit-wearing Mr McCaughan.

Tag Tokyo gathers market data on young people using innovative tools that are unusual in Japan. Yayoi, the star-infatuated young woman, was videoed via a Tag tool called "Everybody is Ken Burns", after the documentary film-maker. They hand video cameras to "targets", who then make an uncensored video of his or her life.

Other tools include "Snap n Send", where data is collected by sending questions via a mobile phone equipped with a camera, and collecting the answers - often as a hybrid of text and photos.
Japan has become a hotbed for youth trends that influence pop culture and young people throughout the world. In addition, there have been important structural shifts in the youth market, says McCann-Erickson.

"We recognised that youth culture in Japan had come to a point where it had changed so much. The market has become more fractionalised," says Mr McCaughan. A recession in Japan lasting more than a decade has been the catalyst for much of the change and segmentation in the youth market, say industry observers. The bursting of Japan's asset bubble and subsequent breakdown of the lifetime employment system has given rise to a category of young adults dubbed freeters in the media.

Freeters may or may not have attended college but they do hold down a number of part-time jobs while pursuing their dreams - whether as a guitarist in a punk band or studying to be a beautician. "Niche consumption patterns have emerged in the Japanese market," says Futaba Tanaka, a chief researcher at Hakuhodo, a leading Japanese advertising agency, and author of the book Live Marketing.

"A decade ago, young people coveted the same things. But now, the Japanese have more sophisticated patterns of collecting information, such as PCs and mobile phones. This provides the basic infrastructure by which one can gather information and pinpoint what they want." Indeed, many observers say the young Japanese may be the most sophisticated in the world when it comes to quickly cataloguing their items of desire, whether it be by researching on a computer or by flicking through the myriad magazines at their local convenience store.

"The editing capability of Japanese youth is phenomenal," says Junko Yuasa, an expert on youth marketing in the cosmetics product development unit at Shiseido, Japan's leading cosmetics company. "Japanese women are not particularly creative, but they're excellent at editing, or creating a look from seemingly disparate pieces or styles." Shiseido last year launched a new cosmetics line, Majolica Majorca, which caters to women in the 19-24 age bracket.

Most advertisers are focusing less on teenagers and more on those in their early 20s: young, single people who are working. According to the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, the research arm of the advertising agency, in 2002 men aged 15-19 had Y15,940 (£81) to spend freely, while those in their 20s had an average of Y51,370. In comparison, women aged 15-19 had Y16,600 in disposable income, and those in their 20s had Y38,300. "It's our intention to capture those who are making money," says Ms Yuasa.
Another change that has slowly gained momentum in Japan is a declining fixation on US-branded products, and the west in general.

"From the post-war era to the end of the bubble, Japanese youth have long been transfixed on overseas goods," says Ms Tanaka from Hakuhodo. "But with the rise of J-pop [Japanese pop music] and Japanese street fashion, people are waking up to the quality and coolness of domestic goods."

With the country's population growth falling (the average number of children a woman will have dropped to a record low of 1.29 in 2003), many agencies are strengthening their market research on the "silver market".

Dentsu, Japan's leading adverting agency, established a "50+ project" in 2001, which gathered marketing, media planning and media buying experts to study the senior consumer segment. The project developed into a separate department of more than 40 staff. In contrast, Dentsu researches the youth market, but does not have a dedicated department.

But some observers say the greying of Japan could increase the purchasing power of the young. "Most people think that from 2007, when the population begins to shrink, it will become a difficult time for anyone selling stuff to young people," says Mr McCaughan.
"But I say it's boom time for selling stuff to young people. A shrinking population means there will be more adults per young person. So there will be more pockets for that young person's hands to get into."
The second article is Richard Edelman (CEO of Edelman) on teen culture. Warning: things like the feedback feature and much of the Edelman site in general does not work well with browsers other than MS Internet Explorer. This blog entry has some interesting insights but also misses some crucial elements:
  • It was interesting reading the comments by inference about the baby boomers, my take was the the more existential viewpoint of the boomers brought about amazing entrepreneurship and a huge wealth of culture that marketers like you and I have benefited from for the past 20 years or more. Are we making too many 'company men' for the more dynamic future that lies ahead?
  • There was less of a reflection of tribes in the article. Teenagers are not one mass like in the 50's but part of a number of disparate cultures, some more heavily entrenched than others. Beyond the rich culture of hip-hop, there is also skaters, the underground punk scene with its straight-edged lifestyle (no caffiene, no drugs, no alcohol) to name but two
  • The use of chat rooms to seed marketing reminded me of the old Bill Hicks skit 'Marketers kill yourselves' where the point he was making was that marketers were putting a price tag on everything, yet seldom understood its value. We need to know where to draw the line and show restraint. If we push too hard into word of mouth will we devalue it as a 'media channel' like has happened with editorial?
  • Finally over managed and over achieving kids, there is no right or wrong answer because children are different. Some may thrive in the hot house, others may come apart (think of young sports stars or film actors). There should enough support to allow them to be everything they can be and are comfortable with. A message that any parent can relate to

Thanks for your comments. A couple of the thoughts raised were actually part of two interesting meetings this week.

I heard Andre Harrell and Damon Dash (of Rocawear) speak about Hip Hop Marketing. I also had a breakfast with Steve Knox of Tremor, CEO of a word-of-mouth marketing consultancy. Put this together with a Sunday night broadcast on 60 Minutes focused on Echo Boomers and you have three quite interesting and different views of today's teen market.

Hip Hop has followed Rock and Roll as a lifestyle choice, beyond the music into fashion and movies. Hip Hop, according to Damon Dash, reflects the reality of life in the ghetto, with kids raised by a single parent, running with gangs, confronting the daily risk of guns and drugs, struggling to survive. It is answering teens' demand for individual expression and recognizes the limited economic opportunity of this generation. Hip Hop is in every teen's head--if you see a picture of JZ or Snoop Dog, you know about his music, his lifestyle, and his problems. Hip Hop has moved beyond the negative images of a decade ago, of violence and misogyny, to be cool and smart, from hot to sexy. To communicate to this demographic, companies must be truthful and genuine. "It is not enough to put African American people in an ad with rap music to market fast food--it is not how we live--just too formalistic-- avoid exploitation and artificial scenes, which are offensive, and be natural about it," Dash said.

Word-of-Mouth advocacy by teens depends on finding the right consumers and feeding them information in advance that can be passed along to peers. They are passionate communicators, trend spreaders, not trend setters or early adopters. They will talk about products or ideas in their social networks if the concept is simple to communicate and worth his/her advocacy. They have 15-17 people on their email buddy lists, compared to 8-9 for the average teen. Tremor has recruited 280,000 teens in the US to be in a personal relationship based on hearing cool new ideas before others and promising that their voices will be heard at corporations to improve the product or service. The key point again is credibility, because the teen connector feels his/her social currency is on the line.

The 60 Minutes segment took an entirely different view of teens, as a generation aiming to please, with rules replacing rebellion, convention over individualism, and acceptance of traditional values. Mel Levine, a professor at the University of North Carolina, described a heavily programmed upbringing, with soccer on Monday, kung fu on Tuesday, religious school on Wednesday and clarinet lessons on Thursday--a whole life of structure. Levine is concerned that the overmanaged, overachieving teens protected by parents and with inflated egos will quickly be disappointed by the reality of the workplace. Another expert, Neil Howe, painted a more optimistic scenario, contrasting this generation of teens quite favorably with their self-absorbed, egocentric Baby Boomer parents. He described current teens as good team players, collectively special, more like their grandparents, the World War II generation.

How to harmonize these rather disparate views of teens? I have three of them at home. Some part of all of this is consistent with my experience. A discussion this summer with my 17 year-old daughter, about our firm's plans to find catalyts within chat rooms to provide them information on new products, reflected significant suspicion about business' motives and a strong desire to protect individual privacy (“Dad, what the hell are you doing checking on my conversations”). Whatever we do to reach these teens must be based on permission, complete transparency on identity and motive, and having a relationship with both sides listening. Hope this is useful.

Richard



Thursday, October 14, 2004

 
Deep Thinking

Summer must have been quiet in the analyst community, as I recently covered Forrester's efforts on taking a consultative approach to the innovation organisation and am currently working through a 53-page white paper from McKinsey. CurrentAnalysis, an up and coming analyst shop last month issued a whitepaper called Competitive Response: A New Lens for Evaluating Company Performance. No link I am afraid as the paper arrived as an email attachment.

CurrentAnalysis have obviously put a lot of the thought into the document with a view to having their competitive response quadrant quoted as widely as the BCG matrix is at present.

Very simply:

High business performance/ low competitive responsiveness: vulnerable coasters
High business performance and competitive responsiveness: responsive performers

Low business performance and competitive responsiveness: laggards
Low business performance / high competitive responsiveness: under acheivers

What is competitive responsiveness?

Competitive responsiveness is the measure of a company's capability to respond to changes in external conditions and events. (So it sounds like the agile business concept that many companies such as Microsoft try to hang their hat on.)

What the key attributes influencing creative responsiveness?

We have identified three recurring dimensions that companies should use to measure competitive responsiveness: speed, consistency and effectiveness.

The model is an externally driven view of the business

They view the competitive response model as consisting of six stages that occur in iterative cycles:

  • Sense & capture
  • Interpret & create awareness
  • Analyse & inform
  • Deliberate & decide
  • Respond & engage
  • Measure & correct
In summary, CurrentAnalysis' paper is interesting but presupposes a value based approach to running a business rather than a growth approach. Amazon for instance would would be ranked unduly low in the quadrant because they pursued a rigorous policy of growing the business to critical mass.





 
Stop Press: Apple numbers rocket

Apple's financial results go off the scale, Bloomberg reports on the record profits here.

The numbers were driven by iPod and laptop sales, they could have been higher if the iMac was launched on time. You can listen to the Apple audio webcast here. There was an issue with getting adequate supply of G5 micro processors which restricted iMac and professional boxes. Interestingly all the iMacs have been airfreighted to their markets at an increased expense in order to meet customers demand.

Music grew 370 per cent (includes iPods and iTMS), hp counted for six per cent of iPod sales. There was some constraint on the iPods due to some difficulties in getting the required number of hard drives.


More Apple stores expected in the UK after Regent Street, revenue in Europe was up 31 per cent. Education sales were up by almost 20 per cent, back to school higher education sales were successful.

Revenue growth was a key message delivered throughout the webcast.

One of the analysts on the call mentioned that AT&T was trialing Apple systems to get around the Windows virus / malware epidemic and asked what the take up was in the corporate sector.

Apple's officical press release here.



Wednesday, October 13, 2004

 
Slaughterhouse-Five

I had read the Kurt Vonnegut book a number of years ago and was keen to find out how it would be translated into film. I purchased the DVD from the US and was not disappointed. The main character Pilgrim is played in a sympathetic way and the disjoints in the plot caused by what he perceives as time travel translate well to film. Kurt Vonnegut's message comes across very well in the film. I look forward to getting to see the film version of Breakfast of Champions following on from my experience of this film.

If you want to know more about Slaughterhouse-Five, Wikipedia have a really good summary.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

 
Curry and Splice

Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ and avid blogger has launched some software called iPodder that takes audio content from RSS enclosures (think an audio file as an email attachment) and put it in a playable form on to your MP3 player.

Let's hope that the content lives up to the hassle.

Monday, October 11, 2004

 
Great site

Powells, an American book shop that calls itself 'Powells City of Books the legendary bookstore' has a great section where they have a transcript of interviews of authors they have done at the store. From Martin Amis to Anthony Swofford. Check it out here.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

 
Conan the 11:35

During the 1980s and before, the chat show was king in the UK. People like Terry Wogan, Russell Harty and Sir David Frost had the measure of the zeitgest by having the people that moved society appear on their show, politicians, sports stars and celebrities.

In the US, there is one show that still has that power: NBC's Tonight Show which starts at 11:35pm which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. In the UK it is probably most famous for a few reasons:
- Some of the most famous footage of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles was their performances on the show after being introduced by Johnny Carson. When they arrived on the show they had truly made it
- Jack Nicholson's 'here's Johnny' line in The Shining borrowed from the NBC Late Show's warm-up guy introducing the host Johnny Carson

The show is a safety blanket and yet holds a mirror up to America but in a more establishment way than Saturday Night Live, because of all this the appointment of Conan O'Brien as the future host in FIVE years time was big news. O'Brien has a quick fire caustic wit that will need to be tempered when he takes over the mantle because since Johnny Carson the show is bigger than the presenter. In fact this is bigger than Greg Dyke getting fired from the BBC.

More on this from Joe Hagan writing for the New York Observer.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

 
Inbound at Six O'Clock

My
blog entry the other day regarding Microsoft CEO's character assasination of iPod users like myself resulted in coverage in The Register, Mac Daily News, Afterdawn.com, Wired journalist Leander Kahney's Cult of the Mac blog, and respected German blog IT&W. If you have joined us from those or any other sites welcome / wilkommen I hope that you find the postings of interest.

On to industry news, Martin Kuderna - Bayern Munich supporter, PR firebrand and all round diamond geezer has set up a new PR agency called
100Zehn (apparently it means 110 per cent, but I have his word to take for it.) As a new shop they have a to die for client list of PalmOne, Extended Systems, Alatis and some nickel and dime computer company run by some cranky guy who also runs Pixar (Toy Story and Monsters Inc.) Seriously if you need PR in the German market, these guys are the bomb.

 
Skype U Like

I was recommended Skype VoIP software from my friend Uri. I had not tried voice over the net since I worked on one of the pioneers in this area, an Israeli company called Delthathree. I expected metallic sounding voices and gapped and stuttered speech as signals would be distorted and delayed by network traffic. Skype is a peer-to-peer voice over the net application, you pay nothing for calls between computers and low prices between computers and phones.

This is nothing new Net2Phone did this back in the day, both Yahoo! Messenger and Apple's iChat allows you to do video conferencing and voice calls. Skype has something else, sizzle.

Skype's client software arrived just as broadband has become mainstream, secondly the player looks and works really well, Skype had the underground cool heritage of Kazaa - both shared the same development team based somewhere in the Latvia. Finally the Orrin Hatch pestilence of anything that doesn't cost the consumer must be bad has co-opted authority against open source, P2P communities and telecoms providers against any web service they would like to tax to feather their own nests.

Usability in the Mac OS X client is second to none and very intuitive. Encryption of conversations would be nice just to wind the powers that be up a bit more! The way I look at it, the more we make them work to read our personal mail, the better the peace dividend in five years or so as the NSA has had to increase its computing power and write wicked cool software to cope. Hell, it would be un-American not to help be everything they can be!

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