Saturday, May 30, 2009

New blog on the block

My friend Manuel has decided to start up a blog in an effort to put to text the undoubtedly strange and wonderful thoughts and ideas that bounce around his brain.
The blog, "Ireland via Chile", can be found here.

His first post brings up an interesting argument about the levels of customer service we enjoy (or not) here in Ireland. Well worth a look. So go. Now...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Where's the Beef?

While reading through an article on "Mad cow disease" (great name for a condition) yesterday I came across this data that shows the decline of grams of beef per person from 1974 to 1999, and accompanied rise of consumption of poultry.

Scares surrounding mad cow disease started in the late 80's and intensified in the early 90's, however the rise of poultry consumption could probably also be attributed to other factors such as cost and poultry being perceived as a healthier alternative.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jo on the merits of Consumerism

After having disappeared to parts unknown for the last long while, today sees the return of every ones favorite guest poster: Johannes Boegershausen (nice surname huh?) from Germany. Read away at his wonderful thoughts below... DO IT

Recently while sorting the papers and folders that accumulated during my undergraduate studies, I rediscovered some older notes of mine that I prepared for an essay about consumerism and its critics in a course about globalization. As this topic has received reasonable attention amid the current crisis, this short blog entry will highlight some of the key ideas of this argument briefly.

“We all know that Coke “adds to life” and Toyota open our eyes to show as that “nothing is impossible”. Obviously we are living in a commercial age, but what’s this consumer culture about?
Consumption of goods and services as such is a typical human activity. However, some argue that most of today’s consumption in the Western world is consumption in excess of needs. Consumerism is associated with dysfunctional societies, in which shopaholics are bound together by shop-bought items rather than by cultural identity. Following this notion, most consumers buy products for the social identity they bestow on them (e.g. Adidas shoes, Rolex watches, BMW cars etc.). Moreover, the excessive consumerism may negatively affect the environment as well as the health of the consumers (just think about overeating fast food etc.). While there is undoubtedly some truth in this criticism of consumers, one may right ask what are the alternatives? Many of the critics of consumerism call for legislation and regulation to limit consumerism. But what are the consequences?

Libertarians tend to defend consumerism by stating that economic materialism is natural. However, there is a more convincing argument pro-consumerism: consumer behavior (and thus shopping and consumeristic behavior) is obviously driven by the personal decision making of each consumer. Subsequently, the only way to limit excessive consumption beyond needs is the personal decision of each individual. It should be noted, that the term “needs” itself is full of ambiguity, just think of luxury goods – are they per se waste or excessive consumption? Can needs be defined by an authority/state agency in democracy? Rather not. The only other model to eliminate consumerism is to introduce systems with centralized planning and sumptuary laws (welcome back GDR and Soviet Union) – a vision not even popular among the most persistent critics of consumerism…

Just do it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rather silly confessions of a Sales Rep

By way of Peter Rost's blog I came across an interview piece with a rather charming contestant off the hit US tv series "Survivor" pictured above. The person in question is Corinne Kaplan, who prior to the show was, according to her LinkedIn profile a "Senior Executive Sales Rep " for GSK. Her profile also states that "My goal is to excel at a challenging senior level sales position"

However I would imagine that the follow information might make future employers a little less likely to hire her.

According to the ex-sorority girl she is ultra competitive and admits with glee "I have no moral compass." But wait, her admissions become even more comical - "Selling drugs is a lie" she said, adding "I sold Vioxx for Merck before it got taken off the market for killing people. I knew damn well it was dangerous; I went around telling them to write it. There’s a lot of serious lying I’ve done in my life"

"It’s not for me to say. … Don’t listen to me. Read your fucking journals. Why the fuck are you listening to your rep? Just because I’m pretty? You think I know more about the drug? No."
..What a charming young lady... and to be fair she has a point, the doctors should not trust every attractive rep that marches into their practice, HOWEVER, if reps are going to start telling the doctors that there is essentially no point in seeing them, and insist on telling them to "read your fucking journals" they might find themselves being banned from seeing certain doctors (I think this happens quite regularly - certain doctors refuse to see reps altogether).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Veterinary woes

Last week my favorite podcast in the whole wide world ("More or Less") reported a rather shocking statistic last week regarding the employment situation of British vets.

It would seem that the veterinary community have fallen foul of troubling economic times. Believe it or not the number of unemployed vets claiming welfare have risen by 350%. So as of this week there are now 45 unemployed vets claiming welfare in England, yes that right... 45, not 45 thousand, or 45 hundred... just 45 - but seeing as the base number was a whopping TEN, it seems like an astronomical increase when you consider it in percentage terms.

I'd check out that podcast if I were you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

GQ expose more bad Army slides of a biblical proportion

The US military have a long and proud history of, among other things, producing the most woeful graphics and slide shows on the planet. There are some pretty famous examples out there such as this one: I often wonder how people can come up with slides that are this bad, and I suppose for the most part you can put it down to the fact that people's brains work in different ways, and some people are not particularly graphically minded, that's what I like to tell myself in order to calm down.

However what I just cant get into my mind is why in the US Army, where surely some of America's best and brightest reside, they cant get something like PowerPoint right, and with that in mind I bring you to exhibit B.

GQ, the men's lifestyle magazine has recently published an article and related slide show on their website (here) of some of the cover slides for the Department of Defence's "World intelligence update". Here's one of the beauty's below

Since the leaking of these seemingly top secret documents (shouldn't someone get in trouble for this?), there has been widespread condemnation about the fact that every cover slide seems to use a quote from the bible, accompanied by pictures of either combat, or freedom bringing troops - needless to say it is deemed a little inappropriate to indicate in any way that this is a holy war.

As for me, I don't think I mind all that much about the fact there are bible quotes on the cover slide, I find that it actually matches the complete shoddiness and shambolic nature of the slide overall. Again, who makes these slides? (again... shouldn't someone get in trouble for this?), I understand that in this case my gripes are solely of an aesthetic nature, but really if I were on the mailing list for this document I would probably bin it straight away.

Head over to the article here and amaze yourself as to just how ridiculous the US Army can be.
Apologies for the pun in the title.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The funniest moment in radio history?

I don't listen to the radio all that much these days, but maybe I would if I was assured such comical over the top political commentary as can be found on the American airwaves. While browsing Graham Linehen's blog I came across this beauty.
I would think that if an Irish host did this on radio they might very well be taken into some sort of special care.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Proposed tax on Soft drinks in the US: what about the fun?

It looks as though various states in the USA are considering bringing in a tax on soft drinks that contain sugar in an effort to curtail the somewhat ludicrous consumption habits of the American population. According to John Berman of World News “The average American drinks the equivalent of 50 cans of soda a month. And we drink more soda than bottled water, milk or coffee.”

This is quite clearly a problem, seeing as there are approximately 150 calories in every can. I suppose you might say that in reality this is not all that much, even if you drank nearly 2 cans per day, but I think its worth keeping in mind that this average figure of 50 probably has large deviation, I have been to America several times and seen the drinks sizes consumed at McDonalds and the like -WAY more than 2 cans - probably more like 4, and then we are talking of more like 600 calories.

“A 1 penny per ounce tax-on sugared beverages could lead to a bout a 10 percent reduction in population consumption which could be a public health home run.” is what Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center Director for Obesity at Yale thinks about the matter, and most people would agree that additional taxation on products that cause health problems is entirely reasonable, especially in a country where the obesity problem is out of control.

This view is not held by the soft drinks industry, and I suppose in reality that is not all that surprising. Susan K. Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, recently appeared in an interview and had a slightly absurd contribution to make the issue. "Soft drinks don’t play any role in the obesity epidemic" said Neely, adding "Soft drinks are just a fun beverage along with a lot of other beverages and foods that we like to eat or drink. It’s eating too much of something that is a problem".

Now excuse me if I am being overly harsh, but to say soft drinks "don't play any role" in the obesity problem seems like incredibly wishful thinking, perhaps you could say they play a small role, a minor role, something - just don't say they have nothing to do with it. Secondly I don't think I have ever heard anyone come to the defence of a product by citing its "FUNness", that sounds like the sort of arguments a 8 year old might make.
The whole "FUN" theme seems to be a constant feature rolled out by the American Beverage Association, they say in their blog:

"Like we often tell you, we’re a fun industry with a fun history full of fun stories that happens to make fun beverages meant to be enjoyed"

I like what comedian Stephen Colbert had to say about this importance the organisation is putting on "fun": "Yeh... things that are fun are never bad for you, we learned that from unprotected sex"

Although soft drinks are clearly not the only factor to blame for obesity they are however a large contributor, and an easy target to start the reform off, I think that taxing (and btw the proposed tax isn't all that high) sugar laden soft drinks makes complete sense, and if it leads to better health for the population, and tax revenue that can be spent on the health system I say go for it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bad Science: What a book

At the moment I am reading the book "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre, a regular columnist for The Guardian for a section by the same name - Bad Science.

This book is unreasonably good and preposterously funny, furthermore it also manages to give you a very good education about the basics of science and thinking in a more scientific way.

Mr. Goldacre seems to share a great many of the pet peeves that make me a little angry from time to time, and has entire chapters dedicated to, among other things, the likes of Homeopathic "Medicine", how the media contorts & misrepresents data, how journalists get it wrong and much more.
My favorite chapter to date is the one concerning his views towards "Dr" Gillian McKeith, every one's favorite television nutritionist.

Goldacre records his first introduction to McKeiths existence by way of an a letter from a reader of his column informing him of her TV series, Goldacre writes:
"She was also quoted saying something a 14 year old doing GSCE biology could have identified as pure nonsense: recommending spinach, and the darker leaves on plants, because they contain more chlorophyll. According to McKeith these are "high in oxygen" and will "really oxygenate your blood"
He goes on...
"Is chlorophyll "high in oxygen"? No. It helps make oxygen. In sunlight. And its pretty dark in your bowels: in fact, if there's any light in there at all then something's gone badly wrong"

My favorite part of the chapter is Goldacre's analysis of McKeith's "professional qualifications", it turns out that her PhD was obtained from "Clayton College" which offered a non-accredited correspondence course for a mere $6,400 in fees, furthermore. McKeith's defence of also being a member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants is also questioned by Goldacre: "Well. My dead cat Hettie is also a "certified professional member of the AANC. I have the certificate hanging in my loo"

I could go on about this book forever, so for my own safety I won't, all I can say is that you should try and get hold of a copy of this book... or at the very least have a look at this video of him... and then get the book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

FDA: Cheerios being marketed as a drug

It would appear that General Mills, the manufacturers of Cheerios among other things, are in a bit of hot water at the moment with the FDA.

The FDA which regulates the production and promotion of food and drugs in the US has taken particular exception to the strong health related claims made by the manufacturers regarding the health benefits of including the cereal in your diet.

"You can lower your cholesterol by 4 per cent in six weeks"

In a letter sent to Ken Powell, CEO of Gen Mills, the FDA claim that "Based on claims made on your product's label, we have determined that your Cheerios® Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease"

It would seem that the marketing team behind the cereal chose to essentially ignore the "Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act" and have landed themselves in some trouble.
I'm sure that General Mills will find a creative way to rephrase the meesage they are trying to send out regarding the health effects of consuming their cereal, but part of me hope that that don't because "Failure to promptly correct the violations specified above may result in enforcement action without further notice. Enforcement action may include seizure of violative products and/or injunction against the manufacturers and distributors of violative products"... Part of me likes the image of FDA agents storming in through the front doors of a Wallmart and energetically removing all offending "violative products" off the shelves in a very over the top manner.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hans Rosling on Swine Flu reporting

Great video posted on YouTube by my favorite stats man Hans Rosling. He decided to take a look at the recent occurrence, and subsequent coverage of, the swine flu compared to another disease Tuberculosis.
I wont quote all the figures in the video because it would ruin the video, but the one stat that I will quote is Deaths over the same 13 day period: (from swine flu = 31)(from tuberculosis = 63,066)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Missing out

Decided to recycle this "oldy but goody" post from a while back

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ryanair, being nice... not really though

I read on the "Value Ireland" blog about a very cunning little plan that the chaps at Ryanair have thought of regarding flights to Scotland this coming weekend which are very much in demand from Leinster Rugby supporters wanting to go see the Heineken cup final.

It would seem that to those Munster supporters that had bought flights in advance - seemingly in the assumption that their team would be in the finals - are being offered a refund of up to €100. Now at first glance this seems like a pretty nice gesture by Ryanair, because it is usually more Ryanair's style to tell you to fupp off.

Upon closer inspection you can see that this is not really ALL about the press they might gain from the stunt. According to the Ryanair website "All seats are now available for just €349 return between Dublin and Edinburgh and €199 return between Dublin and Glasgow (Prestwick)." A great example of supply and demand in action here, €249 extra revenue anyone?
Smart stuff.

Thursday, May 7, 2009 - a website you will like is one of my favorite websites, and is a great source of information and insipration for anyone looking to gain new ideas about how to present information in the form of powerpoint slides. I usually describe it as "like youtube, but for presentations". The site really is cooler than I make it sound, trust me.

I have had the distinct pleasure of being included on the frontpage of the website on previous occasions, and now the good folks at the website have decided that my "Slide makeover of a slide makeover" should also feature on the frontpage for a while, I am convinced that I must have some sort of unkown insider at the website.

However this time, seeing as I am actively critising someone elses work I am expecting that he might get in contact with me and we will have to have a powerpoint duel... Nerdyness of new proportions!!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Slide makeover... of a slide makeover

The presentation below is what people in the know seem to term as a "Slide makeover", whereby you take a slide which was previously hideous and attempt to make it less so. I was shown this video on youtube by a friend of a guy who does this, and some how seems to make a living off it...

So anyway, below is a step by step guide of how I made the slide in question, and while it is by no means perfect, I would be fairly confident it is more effective at conveying the information in question.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mass Karaoke - A T-Mobile production

I found this wonderful video via "adfreak" blog, and I have to say I am fairly impressed with it. It would seem like the good folk at T-Mobile, and their advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi thought it would be a great laugh to cram 13,000 of their customers into Trafalgar square and have them do a bizarre sort of... Mass karaoke!

This no doubt drummed up plenty of local press and by the looks of it they probably have some decent footage for an advert or two.

If you like the Beatles' music you might be slightly annoyed to hear people butcher "Hey Jude", but its quite good honest!

China: Smoke more please

Today the Irish Times have run a story about how the Chinese government are aiming to combat their economic woes... by telling people to smoke more.

"In Gongan county in Hubei province, the order has come down from above that employees of all local government departments, organisations, service centres and corporations must consume at least 23,000 cartons of cigarettes this year" ... One can presume that that quantity is not per person.

This order by the government might seem unrealistic, and well, a little silly, but there are 350m smokers in China so it would seem as if this quantity would have been consumed anyway, the main purpose of the initiative is to get people smoking local brands only.
Citizens are "required to smoke local brands, and anyone smoking other brands can be fined. The smoking allowance aims to boost the regional economy by encouraging more consumption of local cigarettes."

However it would appear like many newspapers have missed the boat on this one and are reporting yesterdays news as Reuters news agency are now reporting a change in heart by the provincial government who seemingly rescinded the order as of today... Not an entirely surprising move to be honest.
Nice try though

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dunnes - "The difference is we're Irish"

I have a rather large bone to pick with Dunnes Stores and their new tagline... but before I complain about that it’s probably important to consider the trends in retail that have become apparent in these troubling economic times.

1. It has become very apparent that people are now more price conscious than ever. Large numbers of customers who would have been quite price insensitive are now deciding to “trade down” as such and shop at lower priced retailers such as Aldi and Lidl, often forgoing brand-name goods, for lower prices.

2. People have streamed across the UK border to take advantage of the very favourable € to £ exchange rate despite the governments urges to refrain from doing so, essentially saying that to do so was an unpatriotic act. The pleas were completely ignored and as a result the Christmas 2008 shopping period was the worst seen in Ireland for decades

With these 2 very important facts in mind it startles me that Dunnes Stores (relatively) new tagline is “The difference is we’re Irish” ... I mean seriously... THAT’S IT... that’s all you have? Of all the things people look for when they are choosing a retailer I would imagine that the “Irishness” of the operation is probably quite far down the list. What’s more I would like to know how they have come to the conclusion that they are considerably more Irish than any other major retailer.

In terms of their product range they sell almost the exact same range of products that can be found in any supermarket in the country, and which are quite obviously all made by the same multinational companies. I assume they have a number of locally sourced potatoes or some other inconsequential product like that, but Dunnes Stores do no more to champion Irish brands than Tesco, or Superquinn for that matter. And in terms of the hiring policies of Dunnes vs. Any other supermarket there is absolutely no difference.

So I guess in summary I strongly dislike the new Dunnes tagline on 2 main grounds, the first being it is completely irrelevant to what customers are looking for in a retailer at the moment, and secondly it is essentially a false statement. As far as Im concerned its a completely useless and ineffective branding campaign because "The difference is, the customer doesn't care about that"

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Empowering" Patients through advertising

In society it would seem that some people are generally deemed to be more trustworthy than others. Politicians for example tend to be thought of as residing at the more "untrustworthy" end of the spectrum, and I would imagine those involved in marketing are probably held in roughly the same regard. At the other end of the scale I would imagine you might have people like family doctors and firemen (or something like that)

With the theme of trust in mind I find it quite shocking that in America the FDA allow any sort of direct to customer advertising for pharmaceutical products, especially through the medium of social media. The absurd argument in favour of this is "customer empowerment" to have better informed customers making better choices. (Because of course they are going to be advertising objective clinical information...)

Now excuse me if I am wrong, but a GPs main interest in life is to make his patients better through usage of the best drug available on the market, and a marketers main interest in life is that the patient takes their drug regardless of its efficacy... Who should be allowed advise sick patients?

This coupled with the fact that the vast majority of patients cannot understand the medical consequences of various treatments, and are easily impressionable, says to me that DTC advertising is a complete farce, and despite the protests of pharma companies should most certainly heavily regulate usage of social media.