20 October 2014

Mindless mildness from Johnson & Johnson highlights a double standard

Have a look at this picture of a common supermarket product and consider the following: In the world of the average consumer, what does "mild" mean? Surely mild is only ever a comparative term - as in "mild, moderate, severe" for grading diseases or "mild, medium, hot" for spices. Can something simply be mild without reference to something else which, by comparison, is not?

And how do you prove mildness? "Clinically", no less...?

In the ethical side of its operations - prescription drugs and medical devices - US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson would never get away with using a hanging, unqualified comparative like "mild" in promotional material targeted at health professionals. The ever stricter Medicines Australia Code of Conduct, authorised by the ACCC, expressly forbids this kind of wording, and their competitors would launch a volley of complaints the moment the package hit the shelves.

So why is J&J permitted to base its promotion of a consumer product on a vague, meaningless and possibly misleading term, completely unsupported by any attribution to trials or any other form of science? After all, consumers are actually far less able than clinicians to validate and question a claim like "clinically proven mildness".

28 September 2014

The facts about Abbott and Endeavour Hills: There was never any threat.



Victoria Police finally confirmed on Friday that Numan Haider, fatally shot after stabbing two officers in an incident at Endeavour Hills police station last week, had not been threatening prime minister Tony Abbott.
Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said that police did not believe there was any current threat to the community, nor was there ever a threat to the Prime Minister, connected to Mr Haider, The Age reported.
But the horse has bolted. This important clarification will go largely unnoticed. Many people in the community will remain convinced that Haider was plotting against Australia's democratically-elected leader on behalf of fanatical overseas “Jihadist” interests.
How did the “threats against the PM” story start and how was it propagated? It all seems to have started very vaguely, via that time-honoured journalists’ trick of saying “we understand” when referring to a rumour:
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius would not go into detail about why they wanted to speak to the man, but the ABC understands he had made threats against Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
A later News Limited story under the byline of Simon Benson actually clarified that the threats were only in the heat of the moment, at the time of incident:
Witnesses said he (Haider) made verbal threats against Prime Minister Tony Abbott then stabbed both officers.
Senior intelligence sources confirmed the attacker had made threats against the PM moments before a local police officer drew his gun and shot him dead.
But subtly, that fact is twisted later in the story – without any source being cited – to imply that Haider had made previous threats against the prime minister and that THIS was why security agencies had been watching him:
The man was under surveillance for having allegedly made threats against the PM.
Clearly this is just plain wrong, and very poor journalism. There is no evidence that Haider ever threatened the PM prior to the incident at Endeavour Hills.
And what about the oft-repeated line that Haider had been tracking Tony Abbott, with the obvious implication that the young man had been planning some kind of attack? This also appears to have taken hold, without any corroboration.
Early in the evolution of the story, some media outlets quoted the ABC as saying that "the 18-year-old Muslim extremist had been researching Prime Minister Tony Abbott's movements", taking particular interest in his plans to travel to Melbourne in coming months. I’ve looked and I can’t find any original source for this. However, on Friday, News Limited outlets were reporting that this “research” consisted of a Google search and had happened at some time in the past:
Haider’s passport was cancelled after authorities discovered he had done a Google search to try to find out when Prime Minister Tony Abbott would visit Melbourne and where he planned to go.
Then on Saturday, without citing any source, Gerard Henderson in an opinion piece in The Australian stated baldly that "Evidence has emerged that Haider was tracking the movements of senior politicians, including Tony Abbott". What evidence is that, Mr Henderson?
In fact, a story in The Australian the previous day, again quoting Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton, reported that Australian Federal Police were still looking into whether Haider researched Prime Minister Tony Abbott's movements and that the AFP did not have any "specific" information about potential threats to Mr Abbott.
So… there you have the facts. No evidence of stalking of Tony Abbott, nor of threats - except (allegedly) at the moment of Haider’s attack on the two police officers - nor of conspiracy... except for the media getting together to make news out of rumours, half-truths and bullshit.

08 September 2014

Strip clashes: Why can't the AFL get it right?

Yesterday's AFL Elimination Final between Port Adelaide and Richmond was hard to watch, and not only because of Richmond's painful performance. I found that the combination of bright sun and deep shade at the Adelaide Oval plus the confusingly similar strips of the teams made for very difficult TV viewing. And I simply couldn't understand why that was the case, when the issue of a strip clash had been raised and - I thought - settled during the week, with the unusual decision to allow Port to wear its traditional SANFL "prison bars" stripes. Yet again, the AFL got it wrong, and it continues to set itself up for failure by not having a simple, fail-safe strip policy.

Some teams and supporters seem to be stuck in the 1950s with the concept of black shorts for the home team and white shorts for the visitors. But that harks back to an era when every team had its own home ground. The concept of "home" and "away" games is meaningless in 2014 - the vast majority of AFL games are played at a ground where neither team is actually at "home" - yet the AFL seems to be gutless about dragging these laggards into the 21st century.

It's actually pretty simple. Teams don't need a "home strip" and an "away strip" as well as a "clash strip" - that's just unnecessarily complicated and confusing. I'm not a neuropsychologist, but I know that it's a basic precept of visual cognition that the eye and brain differentiate objects more rapidly and easily when they contrast. This applies to players as much as it does to spectators and TV viewers, although the limitations of image capture and reproduction make it even more crucial for TV audiences.

To maximise contrast in every game, every AFL team needs just two strips - one predominantly dark and one predominantly light. Forget the irrelevant "home" and "away" shorts - the colour of the shorts goes with whether the strip is predominantly dark or light. Let the home team choose first, or toss for it. And AFL teams should be forced to comply with the light/dark protocol. If they dig their heels in, they will be continuing to damage the game as a whole. While we're at it, guernsey designers should forget fancy swooshes and ribbons and stylised animals - just stick to traditional stripes, sashes, hoops and yokes. From a few rows back or on TV, you can't tell whether that's a majestic swooping brown hawk on the jumper or just a big skid mark.

Why Richmond and Port Adelaide couldn't have played yesterday in the colours they're wearing in the picture above is beyond me. Port had a huge home ground advantage anyway - what difference could it possibly have made what colour shorts they were wearing?

07 September 2014

The Marlboro Man and the Australian Open

It might be hard for some younger people to imagine, but in the early 1980s the Australian Open tennis tournament (then held at Kooyong Stadium each December) was sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes. In fact, they were the "naming rights" sponsor, and the tournament was widely referred to in the media as the Marlboro Australian Open.

Activists and supporters from organisations opposed to tobacco marketing and sponsorship, including Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the Movement Opposed to the Promotion of Unhealthy Products (MOP-UP) and Billboard-Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions (BUGA UP) organised effective protests on Glenferrie Road opposite the stadium, with a simulated "marble row" of headstones and a giant inflatable cigarette, easily visible from the South Eastern Freeway (now Monash/CityLink).

As part of a growing movement against tobacco sponsorship of sport at the time, I wrote and performed this song on community radio station 3CR's Health Show. It's my one and only "protest song"...

The Marlboro Man rode on out from the range
With his profits distending his belly,
And he cunningly thought, if he sponsored some sport
He could still get his ads on the telly.

So he went down to Kooyong and laid out some cash -
Just a pittance for someone so wealthy -
And he said, with a cough: "If this really pays off,
It might even make smoking look healthy."

He said: "Get me the best tennis players on Earth -
I want McEnroe, Borg, Gerulaitis!
It'll be so damn good, I'd play myself if I could...
But I can't - I've got heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema... and chronic bronchitis."


Eventually the Victorian government acted, not only to end tobacco sponsorship of sport, but to fund sporting clubs and healthy activities using revenue collected from tobacco taxes, via the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), the first of its kind in the world.

03 September 2014

Kmart and BWM bowdlerise a classic hit for TV

With the aim of extending the feel of its "Bom Bom" campaign of 2013, featuring the music track of that name by Sam and the Womp, Kmart Australia has recently launched a new TV ad. Here's how their agency BWM explains it:
BWM Melbourne's new spot for Kmart shows how irresistible value feels, by celebrating and sharing the 'Kmart feeling' that transforms low-price products into a wonderland for the imagination.The spot features track 'The Clapping Song' by Shirley Ellis.
It's a pleasant enough ad, if a bit derivative of the kind of thing Bonds has been doing for a number of years. But something about it has bothered me from the start. Although the agency claims on its YouTube channel that the ad features 'The Clapping Song' by Shirley Ellis, the lyrics have clearly been changed from that familiar classic hit of the 1960s without acknowledgment.

For some unknown reason, it's been bowdlerised. Here's how the Kmart version goes, with the original lyrics in brackets:

Three, six, nine
The goose drank lime (wine)
The monkey chewed tomato (tobacco)
On the streetcar line
The line broke
The monkey got woke (choked)
And they all went together (to heaven)
In a little row boat.

Unnecessary? Over the top? Political correctness gone mad? I can only guess that advertiser and agency are trying to avoid any possibility of complaints to the Advertising Standards Board about inappropriate references to alcohol and tobacco consumption and a fatal public transport accident.

Anyway, please enjoy the original (also covered by The Belle Stars in the 1980s) in all its offensive glory...



31 August 2014

Toyota Klanger: Worst-ever rock song adaptation for advertising?

With the footy season reaching the pointy end, we're sure to see a lot more advertising from Toyota, official sponsors of the AFL Premiership. Sadly, that will mean many more exposures of the horrendous current 30-second TVC for Toyota's large family 4WD, the Kluger. This ad is based on what must be the worst-ever adaptation of a popular song as an advertising jingle. Think of the much-loved Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Down On The Corner", then read these lyrics:

Early morning netball
It's sideline coffee time
The boys begin stretching
Soccer's next, let's ride
Need another latte
To cheer on the team
Dad and the four kids exhausted
Mum will be up for a week.
Unbelievably clunky, unfunny and far from clever. Add a half-hearted and poorly-enunciated vocal performance and every visual cliché about "soccer moms" and WASP families you can think of, and you have an absolute shocker of an ad.

Is this really the best creative idea Toyota's agency Saatchi & Saatchi could come up with to differentiate the Kluger from its competitors? Apparently they reckon a lame anecdote about Mum drinking too much latte is something the target audience will relate to and find funny and appealing, in a way that helps build preference for Kluger.

It might work marginally better as an ad for decaf coffee. Or birth control.

04 September 2013

Political parties: Forget "message". Try vision, values and leadership

With three days to go, I've pretty much given up hope. But reflecting on this excruciatingly awful 2013 Federal Election campaign, I still can't help wishing for the impossible... a glimpse of vision from a political leader somewhere.

Ask a party leader why we should vote for him/her and the answer is inevitably framed narrowly, with reference to the other parties. Even the Greens pretty much go with "Because we're not them...".

Surely a better question is "Why do you want to lead us?" Forget the other parties and tell us what you and your mob actually believe in. What are your fundamental values? What motivates you? What's your vision for the nation?

Both major parties are so often heading down the same cynical path on issues like asylum seekers and climate change that we can no longer rely on observed actions and stated policies as a guide to their values and beliefs. Yet I think we crave something more meaningful.

To extend this a little, and with reference to what I do for organisations (businesses and not-for-profits), it continues to puzzle me why political parties spend massive amounts on communications and "message" consultants, researchers and pollsters, but apparently fail to work internally on their core strategy first.

Put simply, message doesn't drive meaning. What I consistently tell marketers is that they must identify or decide what it is they really stand for FIRST, before they even think about the implications for communication. I don't see why the parties that aspire to govern us should do things any differently.