Starship Articles

Starting a Business from Home

March 24, 2020

Like us, you may be one of the many Australians who have decided to do their bit and stay home during these difficult times. You might be doing this because you have to — as one of the people who flew in from overseas and are self-isolating for two weeks, or because you’re working from home, or because you’re not feeling well (if this is the case, we hope you get better soon). Or you might be one of the people caught up in the sudden downturn, finding yourself unfortunately at loose ends. It’s ok to take a break. Have a long drink. Exercise. Hug your pet. Practising self-care isn’t some hippie thing off the yoga-enthusiast corner of the internet: it’s an essential part of everyone’s well-being, key to not feeling overwhelmed by the constant barrage news.

Not looking to take a break? Thinking of setting up a small business in your own home? We’re here to help.

The Basics of Home Business

There are some things you’d have to read up on your own that we can’t delve into here, involving stuff like legal things, tax, and company structure that you should sort out on your end. We think of this as the skeletal frame of your business: building a strong foundation by ensuring that your business is feasible, legal, and tax compliant. We suggest government resources such as this and this as a start. Do the research. We can’t emphasize to our clients how important research is to setting up a healthy, future-proofed, agile business. Think about when your business is meant to get going, and how it’d respond to shocks in the industry — like the current pandemic. It’s not enough just to have a cool idea. Running a successful business isn’t just about the fun stuff: you have to build the foundations of your structure before opening your doors. And who knows: you might be able to find a grant or something similar that can get you started.

All sorted? Now we’ll move into the meat and bones of the matter.

Research… from Home

There are no shortcuts about it — research is the best thing you can do for your future business. Take a peek at the rest of the industry you’re about to get into. Identify what you think are your top 3-5 competitors. Don’t just look at what they’re selling, look at their brand as a complete whole: what kind of language are they using, formal? Informative? Positive? What kind of feel does their branding have compared to their price point: do they look and feel like a premium brand, an affordable brand, or a niche/boutique brand? Where are they sold? Do they have an online presence, and if so, what kind of social media following do they have? How active are they? What kind of website do they have?

Now that you have a better idea of what people in your space are doing, now look up the 3 brands that are in your “ideal” space: whether in terms of brand performance, reach, market space, and so on. What are they doing that’s different? How does their brand look? Why do you like them?

Once you have all these questions answered, think about your offering. Where would your brand sit in the market, in terms of who you’re selling to, your price, your service/goods quality? What are you doing that’s different? What’s your brand mission? Don’t rush this part. Some people can and will take years to identify their niche in the world: and the more in demand, more niche it is, the better you’d do. Best of all, you can do the bare basics of all the above steps in this section from the safety of your home. Good for those long self-isolation days.

Design and Marketing from Home

This is the bit where we usually get involved. However, if you’ve just started and have no capital, you can work out something basic until you have the funds to get in professional help. Here are some basic tips:

  • Brand Language, aka How Your Brand Communicates: Where possible, be positive and be professional, even if it’s meant to be a “fun” brand. Be respectful of people. It isn’t being “PC”, it’s just good business. Bad news gets around quickly in this inter-connected world, and people like to align themselves to brands that reflect their values. If they don’t like you because they think you’re rude / annoying / offensive, they might boycott you — and worse — tell their friends.
  • Branding: Ideally, you should get a professional involved, but for a “standby” basic brand, you can do something to put on preliminary packaging/your site/your media. There are a few free fonts out there that are great, like Fira Sans, Roboto, and Playfair, that you can find on a quick search. Put your brand name in bold / light / all caps depending on what feels right. It’s just a standby look for you to get started with, so it isn’t the end of the world. Use the same font or another good workhorse font for everything. Make sure you use a max of 2 fonts. You can get pros like us to give you a refurbished look later.
  • Don’t use Comic Sans.
  • Or Arial.
  • Or Times New Roman, or Papyrus, or Curls, or Wingdings, or Calibri, or Trajan.
  • If you really have to, fine, Helvetica is all right… bland, but better than Arial.
  • Colours: Don’t go too crazy. Black and white is a classic look, if you don’t want to have to decide right now.
  • Graphics: At this point, we wouldn’t recommend trying to do one by yourself. There’s a science to brand mark design, and mocking one up on Microsoft Paint really isn’t going to cut it.
  • Free programs like Canva will work for now for you to create presentations and other documents. It’s basic, but it’d do until you can get professional help.
  • Set up your social media — carefully. Don’t make names like NewCompany123.
  • Free drag and drop website builders like Wix can work for basic sites, but we wouldn’t recommend using them in the long run if you need anything complex. At Starship, we usually build sites off WordPress or other similar platforms for clients using agency tools, but web development and design is difficult for many clients to understand. If you need eCommerce capacity, try Shopify.

Basic ads

Here’s another part where you usually call in professional help. You do need a coherent branding and social media strategy, or you might be throwing in good money for nothing. If you want to give it a shot, though, here are some basic tips:

  • Read the guidelines of the platform you’re intending to use.
  • Research which platform works for your target audience. Different people use Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and others.
  • Facebook’s ad manager is free to sign up to, and in its basic form, is fairly easy to understand. You can target audiences by interests, geographic location, and more. Take a look.
  • Think about what you want your ads to do, and set yourself some realistic goals (we call them Key Performance Indicators). Do you want to drive more people to your website? Do you want people to buy a product? The more you can drill down on your goals, the easier they will be to meet, and the more effective your advertising will be.

You Get What You Pay For

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for — but sometimes, there’s only so much you can pay for at the start, and that’s completely OK. There’s only so much you can do from home, and besides, it’s important to get the basics down anyway. Getting a headstart on all of the above will help you build your own understanding of what you’re trying to do as a business, as well as get you a foot through the door. Once you get some traction, you can bring in the big guns.

Looking for more advice? Give us a call. We’re here to help.

Pandemic Advertising

March 12, 2020

When I visited the Duomo in Milan last year, it was packed. Tourists squeezed by the occasional local, taking pictures, piling into cafes, trying to get into the church. If you wanted to eat nearby, you had to dodge bomber pigeons and hordes of people hungry for overpriced pizza or Prada. Granted, it was near peak tourist season, what with the furniture show around the corner, but even the heavily armed anti-terrorism presence didn’t deter the public’s quest for the perfect Instagram photo. It’s strange to look at photographs of Italy right now, in the middle of an unprecedented country-wide COVID19 lockdown (for a Western democracy). An empty Venice, a silent Duomo square. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that Venice was considering a cap on visitors to its adult Disneyland of a city. Chinese restaurants are shuttering everywhere. In Australia, the crisis has fed into an existing retail reckoning — the highly popular stationery brand kikki.k, they of the inoffensive pastel Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic, has gone into receivership. Businesses are suffering, and who knows when the government’s going to offer anything more concrete than an “Ask not what the economy can do for you…” sort of message. While the government has promised funds to help Australians through this crisis, whether those funds are enough to even slightly help disadvantaged people and the millions of small businesses rapidly going broke is will yet to be seen.

The darkest timeline is going to get darker yet in Australia. During a press conference, the Victorian Premiere said that the window for containment has passed, and that the pandemic phase of COVID19 is inevitable. Toilet paper has been flying off the shelves, fought over in a sort of Mad Max lavatory Thunderdome scenario. I’m starting to side-eye anyone hacking their lungs out on the germ factories that pass as public transport in Australia. Soon, Australia might institute lockdowns as severe as Italy and other countries in the hopes of flattening the curve. Vaccines aren’t due for a year, at least, and the peak is yet to come.

We’re not here to peddle conspiracy theories though, or to give medical advice. Check out official sources for those, and for Gods’ sake, stop spreading rumours about this being a bioweapon or whatever’s the piping hot Facebook conspiracy theory of the week. Put down your phone for a moment. Breathe. Now wipe down your phone with an alcohol wipe.

All done? We calm? Good. This is Starship’s Brand Survival Guide.

Pandemic Survival 101 — Brand Edition

If you don’t have eCommerce capacity yet, get it. Are you in the FMCG business? If you don’t already have an online shop, you’re far behind the times. Into the provision of services? Explore whether live video is possible. Need to set up either of those in a pinch? Give us a call. Online shopping is currently booming in China due to the outbreak. Via Inside Retail:

The boom has caused significant operational and logistical challenges for retailers trying to keep up with the surge in demand, including delivery delays and out of stocks.

“While China is already at the forefront of e-commerce and retail innovation, the current situation would further accelerate digital commerce adoption among consumers and will have a long-term impact on the consumer purchase behaviour,” said GfK China and India MD Vishal Bali.

“Chinese consumers are likely to adopt more options to consume content and purchase products and services online, including e-learning, online healthcare consulting or buying products through social commerce and third-party apps. Therefore, brands need to also explore newer commerce platforms, payment methods, delivery options and loyalty programmes to connect with consumers across all city tiers and create a seamless shopping experience for them,” he said.

The research relating to online shopping in China showed many consumers intend to delay the purchase of big-ticket items such as consumer electronics until after the outbreak passes, preferring instead to buy products to protect their health and wellbeing.

The same situation will likely apply in Australia if matters worsen. People will be prioritising products that they believe will help protect them or keep them well, entertained, and occupied. Is your business built on items that people are likely to delay buying in times of crisis? You’d have to adapt. As to delivery delays, you’d have to think of that too. Your brand will need to figure out how to navigate the arrival of your product or service into the hands of someone who might be self-isolating, in a safe and respectful way. Via the Drum:

One of the biggest changes that has affected business in China is the closure of warehouses, physical stores and supply chains. To mitigate interruption, organizations should be increasing the weight of budget allocation towards diversifying their trade and e-commerce channels, including the establishment of a self-run e-commerce eco-system with payment and tracking/tagging functions. This greatly reduces risk, and for international brands that adopt this recommendation early, the impact of ongoing trade operations during the outbreak may be minimized.

If you currently have any brand campaigns in place, you might want to rethink them if your business is going to be affected by the situation. With people increasingly deciding to self-isolate or stay home from events, interactive brand content that increases online engagement may also work well for your brand. Information should be succinct, catchy, and real: don’t spread disinformation. People are already functioning at a state of heightened anxiety.

A good example of a brand that was recently affected by the pandemic: the Who Gives a Crap toilet paper brand. As people went on their Paper Apocalypse shops, WGC sold out. They’ve been extremely active on social media since, with stock updates and with additional brand content built to alleviate customer anxiety and build positive engagement:

Don’t be a vulture

There’s a difference between preparing for the pandemic and taking advantage of it. People have long memories. Estimates indicate that the pandemic will peak maybe in May or so and be over hopefully by Christmas. Short term gains — like driving up the price of essential goods, or driving up delivery costs to make a quick buck — will cost you in the long run. Don’t be a vulture. And for Gods’ sake, don’t start reselling face masks and hand sanitiser at high prices. Do you know who needs things like that? Medical practitioners. Do you know what happens when they don’t get it? They get ill, then their patients get ill, and it’s a vicious cycle. If your brand does its part to help out in some way or other, it won’t just be good PR, you’d never know: it might help the situation in the long run somehow.

Things you could do to help your customers: exploring different payment options, helpful products, not driving up prices, instituting social distancing in your business to keep everyone safe, keeping your premises clean, and so on. For Australia to pass through this phase of the virus, we have to flatten the curve, and brands can do it too. Be positive. People are desperate for positivity right now.

Make sure you have a work from home system in place for staff

Does your business have a plan if Australia has to institute Italy’s current measures: where only pharmacies and food markets are open? If not, you’d have to be prepared. Does your business have an isolation strategy in place? Is it possible for your staff to work from home? Are there ways you’ve already put in place to protect your customers? If you have events planned where there’d be large congregations of people, are you able to postpone them? Consider all that now while you still have the time.

Don’t panic

It’s tempting to freak out. We’re very plugged into social media, and you should’ve seen the meltdown when Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had contracted the virus, followed by the NBA cancelling its season within the same half an hour. It looks like the world’s ending, but it’s not — and brands can do their part, survive, and come out on the other end in shipshape all at once. Want to know more? Give us a call.


Feature image by Stefano Mazzola, for Getty, from the Atlantic. See its photo series here.

How to Advertise and Market Retail in a Recession

March 10, 2020

I’m running late for a meeting which has been called on virtually no notice by a client. I’m heading East towards the real burbs.

The traffic opens up a bit as I get past the Leader Newspaper headquarters on Whitehorse Road, and I plant the foot. I leave behind the rich feeding grounds of the BMW X5s and Merc 4WDs. The landscape is now dotted with Ford Territories and Subaru Foresters. I can see on the distant horizon the land of the real Aussie car, calling me, like a mirage in the desert. The rolling hills of suburbia. I’m heading out to where the V8 Falcons, Commodores, and Magnas hide at night, huddled in their cold, brick garages. The Falcons dream of running over BMX bikers. The Commodores of having their panels endorsed by a cigarette company as they race around the Mountain at Bathurst. The Magnas just dream of being either Falcons or Commodores; hating being copies of real cars.

Ah, the suburbs, true backbone of western society. Where even the native trees get clipped and credit cards get clipped even more. The Whitehorse Road shopping strip is retail central for Melbourne. Kilometres of big factory-style outlets. There’s Bunnings, Beacon, BBQ Galore, and that’s just a few of the Bs. And it is furniture retailer nirvana. There’s Outdoor Furniture, Oz Design, Scott Berkowitz, bloody Ray’s (used to be Ray’s Tent City) has furniture.

I look to my left and right as I race along and it seems different to the last time. More angry. More desperate.

Every single retailer has a SALE sign up. For some, it’s the entire window of their showroom covered in the word. Others have a plastic banner stretched along the roof-line or staked on the grass in front. Some have big balloons floating above the store or those bouncing thin plastic men blown up by a pump that beckon you in but only manage to scare me away.

Most have 30, 40 or 50% off. As original as another re-run of the Simpsons. If you’re all doing the same thing, why would anyone go to your shop over the next one claiming super specials too?

This is doubly frustrating as a marketer when you think about what they are selling. I wouldn’t mind if they were a little original in their buying. But they stock the same stuff. There are literally hundreds of identical donkey-brown square-angled latex-filled sofas along Whitehorse Road. Hundreds and hundreds of identical Balinese-inspired teak dining tables surrounded by thousands of identical folding teak chairs.

I know where the rainforests of Southeast Asia have gone. There are more teak trees in the 15 kilometres or so between Box Hill and Bayswater than there is in the 15,000 kilometres between Port Morseby and Ho Chi Min city.

No wonder everything is on Sale. Anybody with half an ounce of intelligence would do something else. Would say ‘Get new stock. Get rid of the crap. Move on with your lives. Change’. But do they? Year after year they go to the same conventions overseas. Visit the same exhibitors. Get told the same crap. Buy the same story and suffer the same problem. They compete on price because they are comfortable doing it and they just don’t seem to get the idea there are other things you can do besides reduce your profits every second day.

They claim they are ‘marketers’ because they’ve been to a seminar once on selling, but they constantly make the mistake discussed in the first 10 minutes of the first lecture in Marketing 101. If you’re looking for an inspiring career in marketing, don’t do furniture retail in Melbourne. You’d be better off joining the Army. In the Army, they actually know marketing has little to do with fighting the Taliban, or whatever the task is today.

And there is the pall of death. You can see it in the eyes of the managers of the stores. Poor suckers who agreed to a commission-based salary, sold through as a ‘profit-sharing’ deal. Here they are, on a lower base, now taking home less money than the people who cut down the trees in Malaysia and chopped them up to make occasional tables.

Why care? Because some people in retail are doing a great job and deserve better than to work for people with the I.Q. of a wing-nut, and besides that, I started my working life in retail and I happen to love it. I love the people contact, the edginess of it. The absolute make-or-break that it is each and every day of retail. I just wish it could be done a lot better than it is in dreary, suburban Melbourne.

Now that the recession is starting to bite and the blood is starting to flow on the streets – it’s about time we consider how to do retail in tough times properly.

What’s tough times?

The government thinks a dip in the GDP of 2 quarters is a recession and a depression is anything more. I’m talking say 1% lower. Any business that’s had two-quarters of minus one percent would be laughing at calling their situation anything other than a slightly flat period. A recession in the real world is when hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs go and a depression is when we’re begging for food on street corners. Keep in mind we’re a long way from either.

It’s all attitude

The whole game is attitude. The most important thing you can do is maintain a positive one. When you get up in the morning, say to yourself ‘I’ve got two ways of treating today. I can be a son of a bitch with a migraine, or I can be a fun, positive person who gets on with life and the rest of the human race and makes other’s lives a pleasure’. Whistle while you work. Be pleasant to be around. Be a leader.

Live it up

Fill yourself and the people who work for you with confidence and happiness. I don’t care if this means you have to take large amounts of morphine or start drinking at 8am. Make jokes. Spray perfume. Buy people lunches. Download some good music and play it too loud. People shop where they feel best and optimism makes everybody feel better.

Customers matter

And for God’s sake, focus on the needs of your customers. Australians love to shop no matter what the economy is doing. This is true in both business-to-business and consumer marketing. Consumers buy anything that makes them feel good. The entire fashion industry (plus beauty/ furniture…) is based on the idea that things don’t wear out, they simply loose appeal/ are no longer cool. So getting new ones makes you a better/cooler person. And this is accepted as raw fact.

Smart companies are always looking to invest in products and services that help to improve their business. They do tend to make decisions based more on logic, but only by shades. Businesses still decide to change over their carpet because it doesn’t match their new corporate colors. Their phones because they don’t work with wireless….  

Yes, I know retail is starting to die a slow death across Australia over the last few years, what with big names like Jeanswest and Harris Scarfe folding up shop. Kmart apparently won’t be renewing their Northcote lease. It’s not the end though, no matter what you might think from the news. JB Hifi just recorded its strongest half-year profit to date:

Retail expert Amanda Stevens told Yahoo Finance that the electronics store’s surprising results aren’t that surprising at all given their customer service model.

“If you’ve been into JB Hi-Fi lately, it’s a fast-moving big box retailer, but they really have knowledgeable staff, which is always a sigh of relief for consumers versus other retailers you go into, and you could spend up to 15 minutes finding someone to give your money to,” she said.

And it’s something JB HI-FI’s group chief executive officer Richard Murray agrees with.

“I would like to thank over 12,000 team members across Australia and New Zealand whose hard work and continued focus on our customers delivered this result,” Murray said.

See that? Customers matter. Make it easy for people to give you their cold, hard cash. And make it feel good for them to do so.

Look at every day as a new start

Go to work with a vision. Have a goal. Keep your focus on the task at hand and never, ever concern yourself with the ‘what could go wrong?’ There are millions of things that could go wrong. You could have rolled under a bus at the age of 7, but you didn’t. Get a focus on the future and start going there NOW.

Advertise more, not less

When you think it’s time to cut back the marketing dollars, the smart players advertise more. Increase marketing efforts during slower sale periods. Fight for market share.

Generate buzz around your business

Whenever anything (I’d add ‘noteworthy’, but it doesn’t matter what you think – it’s only about what a journo will pick up) happens within your business, send a press release to the media. (‘Starship cleans floors on Tuesday’ will do.) Grab any free positive coverage possible. Use what you can generate a good buzz about your business. And be careful about how your business presents itself across any touchpoint.

It’s no longer true that any attention is good attention. Consumer activism is even more powerful than ever. However you call it – wallet activism, buycotting – people have been making more conscious choices about where their money goes to. Brand loyalty isn’t as strong as it used to be. If you’re doing stupid stuff, people will find out and leave for your competitor. Via the Washington Post:

In a report released Jan. 30, the firm surveyed 2,000 U.S. and British consumers who had taken at least one of nine actions in response to something that a company or brand did. Fifty-nine percent of these more activist-minded consumers said it was more important than ever to participate in consumer boycotts, while far more — 83 percent — said it was more important now to support companies they believe “do the right thing” and buy from them.

Even among those who had taken part in some kind of boycotting, a greater share said supporting companies with purchases (or “buycotting,” at 79 percent) was what mattered most rather than boycotting (62 percent).

You might have seen the about-face that Barilla did. Yeah, that pasta and pasta sauce brand that you’d have seen in the supermarkets. When its chairman, Guido Barilla, made homophobic comments on a radio station in 2013, social media ignited with outrage:

Amid calls for a global boycott, Colzani’s family and friends asked what he was doing running that sort of business, and members of his leadership team said they felt deeply uncomfortable. Harvard pulled the pasta from its dining halls, and major retailers in the U.S. and Europe asked to meet with Colzani to clarify the company’s stance. The list of celebrities pledging to shun the brand included Jodi Picoult and Chrissy Teigen, who suggested in a tweet to her 11 million followers that she would fund gay pornography filmed in a bathtub filled with linguine.

The actual market impact was low, but the brand’s CEO became concerned that the brand would be seen as out of date:

The radio interview effectively rescinded Barilla’s seat at the table with progressives, whom it needed to ensure the long-term viability of the brand. “I would guarantee that there would have been virtually no drop-off in sales, because capability—Does the pasta taste good? Is the distribution effective?—means more to the customer than character, which has more saliency with employees, retailers, and community partners,” said Rupert Younger, who leads the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation and is a co-founder of communications company Finsbury. Instead, a typical betterment catalyst in cases such as Barilla’s is the landslide of staff—including senior managers—voicing their anger at the discriminatory statements, he said.

The turnaround has been fast:

Colzani called former colleagues for counsel and appointed a chief diversity and inclusion officer. He leaned on workplace consultants Korn Ferry for advice and formed an external advisory board. U.S. public-relations company Edelman was drafted to steer communications. Colzani started spending about $5 million a year devising an ambitious reputational turnaround. For the past five years the company has earned the highest possible score on the Human Rights Campaign’s corporate equality index.

Barilla is still trying to repair its image. Retailers that are less of a global powerhouse might do well to learn from its mistakes – and from its genuine efforts to make up for them.

Selectively improve your margins

Too often services for which customers would be willing to pay are provided free of charge, while services that customers don’t want, drive up prices. Ask people what they want. Run focus groups. Use a register card questions system. Achieving good service margins requires two things: customer needs vs. their willingness to pay. And that’s it.

Use strategy

Most retailers don’t. There are some exceptions. Bendigo-based Jimmy Possum (clean-lined, often recycled red-gum and messmate tables/side boards) has gone national with its strategy to be as different from other furniture retailers as possible (gotta love that approach)– no discounts, no sales and no airheads on the shop floor….

Don’t focus on pure price

Specialist retailers should forget about trying to compete with the big retailers on price, and instead focus on creating a niche. “A common trait between successful entrepreneurs is a passion for what they do and passion for the niche customers they are delivering too,” says Stafford at Smiggles.

Merchandise your store for sales

Use lighting techniques and creative displays to enhance the customer experience in-store. Play videos for product education, customer entertainment and any other up sell or promotional tie-in. Get your suppliers to help. They are only a phone call away.

Close on cross-sells – boost transaction size

Cross-selling is not exploited much in OZ. Update your crew with suggestive selling and up-selling techniques (Have you earrings to go with that skirt? – I’ve got some beauties over here…) to ensure that your store’s transaction size is the best that you can make it. This is an area in which many are throwing away trade. They are letting the punters walk out with money still in their accounts.

Distribute resources in a more targeted way. Improve your resource allocation. Segment. Add value-based, differentiated support concepts. That means check your local demographics and change the offers to your locals – different ads in local papers, different products on the leaflets….

Stay on top of freight and supplier costs

Many retailers are losing profit every day by not keeping up with current volatility. Agree to a meeting with the next dickhead that rings up from a courier company.

Go EDM

I love email. I love it so much I’d like to get in the back seat with it and give it a full-on tongue kiss. Who cares whether it will love me tomorrow? All I care about is now. Create a mailing list by asking for contact stuff from customers. Then send them something every few days. It’s free!

Social, social, social

Social media can feel a bit like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. It’s necessary in this day and age, though. If you don’t know how to do it well, get a professional to do it. Be polite, be consistent, and be responsive. Think of it as a further way to engage respectfully with your customers, like a digital shopfront with windows in to your business across Facebook, Instagram, and any other platform that’s relevant to your preferred audience. Social media does take work to do well, but if you put in the effort, it’d be as valuable to you as a good webpage.

Dominate a time or a day

On media, especially radio it helps if you’re on at a regular time. Boosts psychological effect and drowns out competitors.

Go wider or narrower or across the gap

If you’ve been focusing on your local area – try expanding your local paper ads to the next suburb too. Many don’t cross ‘natural’ boundaries like rivers or highways for distribution of leaflets. Now is the time to. Or if you’ve been advertising widely with diminishing returns, go more local and more frequent for the same money?

Go more in your face

Funnier, brighter. This is not the time to be subtle. Note I did not say discount. I’m suggesting you use better creative instead of just cutting margins more than you need to.

Meet competition

Yes, if they’ve cut prices you need to stay aware/competitive. But all purchases are about value, not price. Thrown in a set of steak knives (only kidding – but what about a smoking machine or cover?) with a BBQ?

Improve service

When competitors are trying to undercut you on price, make your service level a notch higher than them. Give much more than they expected. You might have to bend over backwards, but it pays off. Have your team wash their cars. Throw in installation. Ring them after they’ve bought and make sure they are happy. Satisfied customers are the linchpin of Word of Mouth.

Follow up on old leads

Take out any old inquiries that had not been converted into orders and follow up on every single one of them. Bring out old business cards, brochures or any other lead that you may have and start calling. Or get a pushy staff member to do it. You need perseverance, but keep on following up – you don’t have anything to lose. Keep in mind, like NOBODY in retail rings you. The cut-through is incredible.

Existing customers

Your existing customers will probably keep your business running during lean times. Take special care of them – your competitors will have their eyes on them too. Keep in regular touch. You might tease or reward them by offering special discounts or gifts as a token of your appreciation, but I wouldn’t take it too far – could look like you care too much. There’s a fine line between showing an appreciation for loyalty, and looking plain desperate.

Find new customers – do something different

Be more flexible. Take smaller orders. Do deliveries. Opening late at night–now is the time. Keep an open mind and bend your rules a little to accommodate them.

Consider more services for your customers – additional warranties, on-site service or telephone support. Give things away for nothing – free coffee or toilets? I’m convinced Maccas is the success it is must be somehow connected to the fact it’s the only place you can go to the toilet on a main road.

Destination point

Make your locations meeting places, greeting places. Start clubs. Get Mums to have coffee there. Bunnings has a sausage sizzle for local charities every week-end. I’d be more likely to turn up at a Home Hardware on a Tuesday arvo if I thought Megan Gale was going to be demonstrating what she can do with a roll of gaffer tape.

Smell nice

There’s something powerful about smell. People buy when the smell is right and don’t when it ain’t. Coffee works. Fresh bread works. Dog poo doesn’t and neither does fresh, ‘recently cleaned’ smell.

Feed them

Free sandwiches or a soup for $5 is better than 20% off a couch.

Meter maids

City Councils throughout Australia are doing their damnedest to hurt small business by fining people coming into your stores for daring to park on their streets. Plus, they make a fair quid in the process. Ruin their day by having your staff fill your customer’s parking metres. Works in Surfers Paradise.

Show movies for little kids

Young mums need to be able to shop but can’t take their eyes off their kids. The little buggers slide under forklifts or jump off balconies. You could help by entertaining them. You would be loved.

E-commerce on website

Get the fricking thing making money for you and stop stuffing around with e-commerce. Spend serious money on it. It’s here to stay. Grow up.

Be more relevant

If you’re not sure what that means, ask someone who cares.

Get together

With other retailers – run a shopping strip promotion. God knows TV air time is so cheap at present, little old High Street Armadale could be on prime time.

Retail other ways

You could do DM direct from TV – think about being the Demtel of furniture, the ab slider of fashion. Guerilla marketing’s all the rage now as well. Keep your mind open. You might surprise yourself.

Take the show to them

If you can’t get them to come into your stores, take it to where the punters are – go to markets, sport events. Let them see you, let them try your products.

Don’t say ‘it’s not our fault’

Or ‘it’s a sign of the times’. As a retailer, you are a predator. Think like one. The lioness does not blame the drought for her hunger – she just eats. She climbs a tree and kills a monkey instead of wasting days on the prairie looking for rabbits.

Retail is only selling stuff at higher margins than wholesale, with the advantage of convenience. In good times it’s great, in bad times it’s tougher, but it can still be profitable – remember, they still have to eat, their clothes wear out, their fridges pack it in, their kids want an iPhone. Someone, somewhere is getting their money. It is just who they buy it from that makes a difference, to you. But they are still brand conscious, still peer-influenced, still time-strapped, still tired. If you put yourself in a situation where it’s easy for them to buy from you, and they don’t feel ripped off, you’ll get the deal. You’ll keep the doors open. You might even be able to buy me lunch.


Article updated on 10 March 2020.

Conspiracy Theories and Other Stories

February 20, 2020

I’m beginning to fear my family’s Whatsapp chat. My Chinese Singaporean parents are in their late 60s and aren’t very good with technology, but sadly they’ve learned how to share videos and memes on the platform. Despite the Singapore Government’s crackdown on fake news, quite a few things they’ve shared won’t exactly meet any sort of journalistic standard, let’s put it at that. I’ve no idea how to fix this, and I’m not alone–several of my friends bemoan the “auntie-uncle conspiracy theory network”, as we call our parents and older relatives’ group chats on Whatsapp, Facebook, and other more accessible social media networks. It puzzles me that this is even a problem. Our parents are often highly educated, business-savvy people who have seen a lot of life and of the world. Why is it then that I had to wake up on the weekend to my dad, a retired robotics engineer, sharing a screenshot of an article claiming that India has few coronavirus cases because they eat a lot of curry, which contains turmeric, which conveys some sort of magic protection against the virus? In 2015, there was a H1N1 pandemic in India that tragically killed 2,035 people. 2015 wasn’t that long ago, and besides, India has 3 COVID-19 cases.

The spread of conspiracy theories haven’t been limited to the older people social media network groups, though. Some of the spread of fake news can be sourced to government officials who really should know better. A “COV-19 is a bioweapon!” BS theory could be traced to Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on Faux News, who had to take to Twitter to clarify that he didn’t say it was true, only that it was possible. No, it’s not — it’s a fringe conspiracy theory that’s been debunked. Political fake news conspiracies by American Senators who lack empathy aside, fear has always been an easy way of making people completely lose their sh*t. Armed gangs in Hong Kong recently stole toilet paper rolls as panic buying hit the city. Via BBC:

Knife wielding men robbed a delivery man outside a supermarket in the Mong Kok district, police said.

Police have arrested two men and recovered some of the stolen loo rolls, local media reports said.

The armed robbery took place in Mong Kok, a district of Hong Kong with a history of “triad” crime gangs, early on Monday.

According to local reports, the robbers had threatened a delivery worker who had unloaded rolls of toilet paper outside Wellcome Supermarket.

An Apple Daily report said that 600 toilet paper rolls, valued at around HKD1,695 ($218; £167), had been stolen.

Toilet paper robberies? Is this how the end begins? Outbreak, World War Z, and the Andromeda Strain never prepared us for this. Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres in games, books, and film: it’s fun trekking through the sun-blasted irradiated wastelands of Fallout, listening to old jazz songs. Of all the hundreds of ways I’ve read about the world ending, though I didn’t expect stupidity to be one of them, but two months into 2020, I’m beginning to think that it’s the most likely end-of-days scenario.

The Virus of Fear

Recently, one of the most popular restaurants in Melbourne’s Chinatown closed. Sharks Fin House has been kicking around since 1989. It was already a staple on Chinatown when I first came to Melbourne in 2002, and back then, you couldn’t order much at yum cha unless you could speak Cantonese. Because of Sharks Fin House, I memorised Cantonese words for my fav yum cha dishes. I went there on Chinese New Year weekend with a friend, and it looked busy. I guess you never know. The closures have been hitting Sydney’s Chinatown hard as well. Via Goodfood:

Struggling restaurant owners in Sydney’s Chinatown say they have lost as much as 85 per cent of their business due to the coronavirus outbreak blocking Chinese tourists and students from coming to Sydney.

On Thursday the federal government extended the travel ban for all non-Australians travelling from China for at least another week as the death toll from the virus continues to surge.

The effect of that travel ban is plain to see in Haymarket where foot traffic is well below the usual bustling level. The Sun Herald and Good Food visited multiple restaurants in Chinatown this week and each of them reported vast falls in patronage and revenue.

Australia only has 15 cases, and they’re all contained. There’s no reason to just stop eating an entire region’s cuisine out of fear, but here we are. The problem isn’t limited to Australia. Chinatowns across America are also experiencing economic crises. Via Eater:

The Times reports that NYC’s three main Chinatowns — in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn — have seen business drop from 50 to 70 percent in the last two weeks. The owners of restaurants like historic Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan describe their environs as a “ghost town,” telling Grub Street that business had reached a five-year slowdown last Monday.

Steve Ip, owner of Yin Ji Chang Fen, tells the Times that he’s been expecting crowds of international students visiting New York-based family during the Lunar New Year: They haven’t materialized, and business at Yin Ji Chang Fen is down by half.

The phenomenon is widespread. Restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown are suffering, too: At a time when businesses like New Golden Gate Seafood Restaurant are normally bustling, that establishment and others are practically empty, Boston radio station WBUR reports. Business leaders in Houston’s Chinatown are seeing the same situation. The owner of Houston’s Shabu house, Debbie Chen, tells Houston TV station KPRC2 news that she’s worried about being able to pay her staff. Internationally, Chinatowns in London and Sydney observe declining business as well.

It isn’t just food places that will be feeling the sting. With much of the world shutting out a major economy and manufacturing hub out of flights, some even restricting cargo imports, the impact on the global economy is going to hit hard. UBS has estimated that coronavirus could cost Australia $1billion in services exports. Via ABC:

While they say it is far too early to know the total cost, just the group travel ban by the Chinese Government, which will stop many tourists leaving the country during the peak Lunar New Year holiday period, could directly cost Australia at least $1 billion in services exports.

“However, if travel disruptions are extended, or expand to cover independent travellers, the cost could be much greater,” the report warned. Global share markets have fallen only modestly since the coronavirus outbreak intensified, but some sectors such as travel and leisure have been hit much harder than others.

“Due to the virus, currently we expect only mild downgrades to global economic growth and corporate profits,” Nikko Asset Management’s chief global strategist John Vail wrote in a note.

“China will be affected the most but, as it is such an important country for supply chains and its demand for goods and services (especially its large tourist contribution), other countries will feel some pain too, at least temporarily.

We do need an effective, rational, well-funded, controlled approach to containing COVID-19. I’m glad that people are racing to produce a vaccine. Illnesses are scary, pandemics even more so. People have died. Our focus should be on flattening the curve in a hopefully rational way. Hoarding essential supplies can hurt people (such as the low income or homeless) who rely on them normally for a living.

Follow the guidelines: wash your hands often (and for 20 seconds each time), use hand sanitizers, try not to touch your face too often. If you’re ill, stay home. If you suspect you have COVID-19, call in ahead. These are all rational ways we can respond to what’s happening. Racism is not rational.

Fighting Conspiracy Theories… With Your Stomach

My fears are perhaps a little self-serving. If the ban extends to Singapore and other Asian countries, the visits of family and friends will be curtailed, my own freedom of movement will be restricted, and the “No Chinese People Allowed” ban at certain businesses around the world might envelop the rest of us: the most populous ethnicity in the world. Melbourne, I hope, will be continue to be pretty good about this. There’s a benefit to living in extremely hipster cities. I’m not afraid to clear my throat on public transport–at least, not yet.

In the meantime, support your local Asian business. They’d probably need it — especially the restaurants. Sharks Fin House might be gone for good, but here’s a few I can think of offhand still kicking around Melbourne CBD that’d be good for a delicious feed:

  • Dainty Sichuan, Various
  • Din Tai Fung: Emporium, 4 Emporium, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Golf Leaf: District Docklands, 10-11 Star Cres, Docklands VIC 3008
  • Hawker Chan: 157 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • HuTong: 14-16 Market Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Lee Ho Fook: 11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Panda Hot Pot: 100 Victoria St, Carlton VIC 3053
  • Secret Kitchen: 222 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Shandong Mama: Mid City, 7/200 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Supper Inn: Level 1/15 Celestial Ave, Melbourne VIC 3000

There are also great restaurants over at Box Hill and beyond. Most of all, don’t freak out. And for the love of God, don’t rob people for toilet paper.

Fantastic Scams and How to Avoid Them

January 30, 2020

I fell for a scam recently. It was one of those phishing emails, set up to look like something they’re not, leading to a landing page that usually asks you for credit card or personal details. In this case, it was a Woolies email about a “survey that I’d done”, arriving only days after I’d completed an actual Woolies Rewards survey. Thankfully, the odd URL and the occasional spelling error in the landing page roused my suspicions, so I noped out and ran a malware/virus scan to be safe, all the while cursing out people who do this sort of thing to make a living. Seriously. Scams have been getting more elaborate with time. There’s a popular ATO phone scam going around, where you get threatening robocalls about owing money to the ATO. There’s the usual Auspost ones about parcels that don’t exist, and more.

Three of the most common types of scams, according to Gizmodo, are:

  1. SIM Swap scam: Someone impersonates you by convincing your carrier to redirect your cell phone number to their phone. Depressingly easy to do, apparently. You can protect yourself by reducing your reliance on SMS two factor authentication and relying on apps like Google Authenticator instead. Be vigilant about warning signs like loss of data or call functionality. Call your carrier to ask about their security measures.
  2. Phishing messages: Fake emails and messages. Sometimes, even opening an email can get you, even if you don’t click on a link. Keep your virus protections up to date and don’t feel too bad if you get caught out: remember, Jeff Bezos himself recently got hacked via phishing message from the Saudis. True story.
  3. Fake calls: These can be depressingly effective even if you’re vigilant. Check the spam/phishing pages of the company purportedly calling you to see if the scam is listed. Google the script that the caller is using. Google the phone number they’re calling you from. People online are very good at listing scammers.

For further help, here’s how you can defend yourself.

Nothing Good Ever Happens–The Cynicism Protection Against Scams

Money doesn’t just drop out of the sky for most people. People don’t randomly pass away in another country and leave you money, and speaking as someone who used to practice as a solicitor, we sure as hell wouldn’t email you about it if there were a million dollars at stake. Apply a healthy degree of cynicism toward anything you read online: whether it’s “Congrats, a $50 Woolies voucher!” or “I write to you to say that your uncle has passed away and left you assets from his estates” and you will hopefully be fine. A healthy spam filter also tends to work out for us. Another thing you could do is: where possible, i.e. if it’s just for a survey or wifi access or whatever, don’t provide anyone with your real email address. I swing between putting down a random 123@123.com address myself, or, if I’m feeling particularly vindictive that day, Donald Trump’s.

By the same vein of ‘don’t trust everything you read’, websites telling you that X payment didn’t go through, or Y account got locked are often phishing emails. You can check whether they are by reading the emails carefully: sometimes there are hilarious spelling errors. Phishing emails are often from odd addresses, or ask you for personal details. Instead of clicking through any links or worse, any attachments, just log in directly to the account in question and check from there.

Some scams work by throwing you off-balance, either by threatening you or claiming to be from a friend who’s lost their passport/wallet in another country. This once happened to my Mum: a friend emailed her through their actual email address, asking for money to be wired to a strange account, because they were in Barcelona and had lost their passport. Mum happened to also be in Barcelona at that time, however, so she called the friend’s phone to tell them that if they needed help, she was already in the same city–only for the friend to tell her that their email had been hacked, and that some of their family members had already fallen for the scam before they could put a stop to it.

Finally, as a form of self-care: report the emails. I don’t know if this ever amounts to anything, but I love forwarding every Paypal phishing email to Paypal’s designated reporting account.

Sometimes People Are Just Asshats

The most asshat scams I’ve seen recently are the bushfire scams, pretending to raise money for the families of firies and such. How much of a total bastard do you have to be to try and profit off mass tragedy? Via the ABC:

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) told the ABC they had received 86 reports of bushfire-related scams since September of 2019, including 20 calls to the scams hotline on Tuesday.

The rise in reported scams comes as authorities have begun to ask people to donate cash rather than goods, as a surplus has built up and is causing distribution issues.

The scams reported include:

  • People impersonating relatives of victims and requesting money via text messages or phone calls
  • Calls or websites impersonating charities and crowdfunding pages impersonating charities
  • People doorknocking, saying they or loved ones have been impacted by the bushfires

Check whether a charity is registered by searching the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission, and be wary of gofundmes from sources that you can’t trust.

Still, sometimes you can do everything right but still get scammed. Card scanners are everywhere, card data can get secretly recorded when you use it, or, like me, you could just get your wallet stolen on a crowded train out of a cake show. Nowadays, the scary thing is to get your ID stolen–cards can be replaced quickly or stopped through an app, but people can easily wreck havoc with an ID card. The only thing you can do is to make sure you are on internet banking apps that’d allow you to quickly monitor every transaction, and just try to be more careful. There are ways to protect yourself against card scanners: see the last section below for more.

Some businesses or people you meet might offer you products or services that feel too good to be true. Even if they don’t, or even if the business feels legit, before you commit to providing any place with your details, do at least a quick Google of them online. Check the News tab on Google. Search them over social media. This should give you a better idea, from online information, what the business is and whether they’re legit.

Ensure that the people in your company are also aware of basic safety procedures. A large corporate business we know once was nearly scammed of millions of dollars: a Hungarian scammer had hacked their emails and had sent a phishing email over to one of their large clients, asking them to make their next payment to a Hungarian account. Thankfully, the client’s accountant became suspicious and contacted the business directly to ask why the bank details had changed so dramatically. Stay suspicious and you’d stay safe.

What Does This Have to Do with Advertising?

As people grow increasingly suspicious of the things they read and see, legitimate businesses can run afoul of this increased scrutiny. If your branding looks dated (or doesn’t exist), you might run into legitimacy issues — people might think that your products/services, particularly if they’re expensive, are not what they appear. Your branding and brand collateral should look as though they suit the target market that they’re aimed at, in order to deepen public trust in your brand.

Further, ad agencies should be careful to ensure that the collateral they produce on behalf of their clients is as ethical, truthful, and non-misleading as possible. Even the suspicion of a scam can taint a brand forever. For example, with regard to our Lamattina client, when creating their Instagram content, we were careful not to put forward facts that we could not be completely sure were backed by a verified, trusted medical source. This, accompanied with branded visuals and language, as well as a popular Instagram campaign, created a healthy level of engagement with the campaign over its run.

Things To Do Right Now

You can do the following things right now to protect yourself if you’re concerned about scams:

  • Ensure that you use a password manager of some kind. Don’t use the same password for everything: ideally, you use a randomly generated separate password for everything, one that you change every 2 weeks. There are apps out there like LastPass that will make this easier for you, and which integrate into your browser and phone.
  • Use a third-party authenticator. Google Authenticator is great, and works with programs like Twitter and Amazon. If you want to go to the next level, use a physical key, like Yubico. We’re too lazy for this however, but it’d probably become a measure that grows more popular with time.
  • Check websites like have Have I Been Pwned to see if your details were on any hacked databases. Change the passwords on those.
  • Use RFID wallets to prevent your cards from being scanned. I use a Bellroy myself, a beautiful, supple, slim wallet that still works to protect my cards.
  • Check ATMs before you use them to see if a card scanner has been fitted over the slot. It’s called ATM skimming, and it’s how people can gain access to your card details while you use an ATM. Wiggle the card intake to see if it’s been fixed, and check it for glue marks. Check overlooking items (like brochure boxes etc) for anything that might look like a hidden camera. Does the keypad look weird? Is it sticky, or stiff, or does it look like it can be levered off the ATM? Is the card slot taking forever to take your card? Are there strange people hovering nearby? Be careful.
  • Sites like Deleteme claim to remove your personal details from databases that you’ve been on, but we’re not entirely sure about handing over key information to a website just so that it will remove it from other sites. Deleting old accounts from sites you no longer use is a good habit, though.
  • Stop posting personal information on public sites like Twitter. Using information that many people freely place on the internet, people can often hack into your accounts by being able to answer questions like the name of your mum.
  • Don’t pick up calls you don’t recognise immediately. Google the numbers.
  • Don’t respond to strange calls asking you for personal details. Hang up and call the direct number.
  • If something is too good to be true, it probably is.

Best of luck, and stay vigilant.

Everything Is On Fire

January 6, 2020

I passed the new year’s celebration in Singapore, watching Australia burn. Our climate change doubter-in-chief, the Australian PM, Scott Morrison, released a hilarious New Years message that not only doesn’t link climate change to the bushfire crisis but which suggests that the current fire season is somehow business as usual: nevermind the apocalyptic images of red skies over Mallacoota, or even the yellow world that dawned over in Dunedin, New Zealand, thousands of miles away. Or the freak fire tornado that killed an RFS volunteer only two days before the message.

Did you see that video of the fire front overtaking a truck? This is not business as usual for Australia.

It’s hard to know what to write. A national bushfire recovery fund was only established on 6 January — months after the fires already started burning in New South Wales, turning Australia’s most populous city, Sydney, into something that looked like the set of a disaster movie. It took a couple of months for the government to move from calling people who linked climate change to the current catastrophe “inner-city raving lunatics” to having to mobilise the troops to rescue people off the beach.

Sadly, ScoMo still has no plans on changing Australia’s emissions reduction policy. Nevermind that Australia was recently rated the worst-performing country on climate change policy out of 57 countries. Yeah, worse than the USA, which as far as I can tell is currently led by an evil Cheeto that has mysteriously gained sentience. Somehow, the crisis in Australia feels worse than watching Cheetolini bumble around trying to start the next World War. It isn’t just that it’s closer to home: it’s that so much of all of this could’ve been avoidable. The last decade has been rife with climate inaction, fearmongering, denial, and attacks on what could’ve been a healthy, bolder local renewables plan. Business as usual — in politics — has gotten us here.

Where next? As Robinson Meyer writes in the Atlantic, Australia is caught in a climate spiral:

For the past few decades, the arid and affluent country of 25 million has padded out its economy—otherwise dominated by sandy beaches and a bustling service sector—by selling coal to the world. As the East Asian economies have grown, Australia has been all too happy to keep their lights on. Exporting food, fiber, and minerals to Asia has helped Australia achieve three decades of nearly relentless growth: Oz has not had a technical recession, defined as two successive quarters of economic contraction, since July 1991.

But now Australia is buckling under the conditions that its fossil fuels have helped bring about. Perhaps the two biggest kinds of climate calamity happening today have begun to afflict the continent.

The first kind of disaster is, of course, the wildfire crisis. In the past three months, bushfires in Australia’s southeast have burned millions of acres, poisoned the air in Sydney and Melbourne, and forced 4,000 tourists and residents in a small beach town, Mallacoota, to congregate on the beach and get evacuated by the navy. A salvo of fires seems to have caught the world’s attention in recent years. But the current Australian season has outdone them all: Over the past six months, Australian fires have burned more than twice the area than was consumed, combined, by California’s 2018 fires and the Amazon’s 2019 fires.

The second is the irreversible scouring of the Earth’s most distinctive ecosystems. In Australia, this phenomenon has come for the country’s natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef. From 2016 to 2018, half of all coral in the reef died, killed by oceanic heat waves that bleached and then essentially starved the symbiotic animals. Because tropical coral reefs take about a decade to recover from such a die-off, and because the relentless pace of climate change means that more heat waves are virtually guaranteed in the 2020s, the reef’s only hope of long-term survival is for humans to virtually halt global warming in the next several decades and then begin to reverse it.

Meeting such a goal will require a revolution in the global energy system—and, above all, a rapid abandonment of coal burning. But there’s the rub. Australia is the world’s second-largest exporter of coal power, and it has avoided recession for the past 27 years in part by selling coal.

Coal is why we’re here… and, sadly, a political love of coal isn’t going to go away anytime soon. ScoMo, after all, is famous for being the clown who brought a lump of coal to question time. So far, his stance has worked out for him, bringing victory to his embattled government this year. It remains to be seen whether his tepid response to the bushfire crisis will change anything.

Advertising on Fire

One of the more amusing (insofar as everything now is bleakly amusing) memes to come out of the bushfire was labelling ScoMo as “Scotty from Marketing”, a joke that was born out of the Betoota Advocate, a prominent Australian satirical site. As Reddit put it:

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, before he went into politics, had a career in marketing, and specifically in tourism marketing (having been responsible in some way for campaigns related to Australia and New Zealand – he is associated with a prominent and controversial Australian tourism campaign with the catchphrase ‘where the bloody hell are ya?’).

The Betoota Advocate, a prominent Australian satirical website, tweeted a link to an article of theirs on November 12th which satirised Morrison’s response to the (still-current) bushfire crisis that was beginning to emerge at the time (sigh). This satirical article portrayed him as cynically using public relations techniques to minimise the importance of the fires, rather than doing something about them: PM Morrison Dusts Off His Marketing Hat To Rebrand The Climate Fires

On the 7th of December, the Betoota tweeted a link to another satirical article titled Mate, Do Something, Anything. Taking a similar slant to the previous linked article, this one started with the words ‘Scotty from Marketing’ referring to Morrison (I think this was their first use of the specific term). ‘Scotty’ as a slangy version of Morrison’s first name has connotations of a lack of respect, and ‘from Marketing’ rather than ‘Prime Minister’ implies lack of leadership; marketing as a profession is often seen as full of people well practised in the art of bullshit, the implication being that there is more to leadership than being able to bullshit.

After Morrison took a holiday in Hawaii during some of the worst of the bushfires in mid-December, the phrase seemed to strike a chord amongst #auspol (Australian politics twitter), and became a prominent hashtag, #scottyfrommarketing, which has now been used by everyone from celebrities to commentators to former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Perhaps because having an instinct for irony requires some understanding of shame, Scotty from Marketing recently ran a Liberal Party ad celebrating his government’s response to the crisis. Unsurprisingly, this was met online with derision/revulsion:

Michael Klaehn, QUT associate lecturer in Social Media, Advertising and Communication, writing on Facebook: “Ads can be funny, heartbreakingly emotional and anywhere in between. Producing an ad in the middle of a national disaster to promote yourself is absolutely disgusting. How much money was wasted on producing and booking this that could be used better. Mindbogglingly stupid.”

The ADA also took offence:

The Australian Defence Association (ADA) — a public-interest watchdog of Australian Defence matters — said on Twitter the video “milking ADF support to civil agencies fighting bushfires” was a “clear breach of the (reciprocal) non-partisanship convention applying to both the ADF & Ministers/MPs”.

Oddly enough, ScoMo has stood behind his decision to release the ad. Keen-eyed people on twitter noted that ScoMo’s donation button link on his Facebook post with the ad was raising money for the Liberal Party, and not for bushfire relief:

After the twitter outcry, the link was quickly removed, but the ad remains. What’s worse, it’s a bad ad, with Todd Sampson from Gruen saying:

“Advertising! There is something not right about running political advertising during a devastating National Crisis. It’s like being ‘sold to’ at a funeral. PR Crisis 101: say less and do more.(Btw, the bouncy elevator music is too juxtaposing and really annoying.)”

You’d think Scotty from Marketing would’ve at least known better.

Donate… but not to the Liberal Party

Did you know that Australia doesn’t have permanent funding for the nation’s bushfire services? It’s just run on a top-up basis. It’s amazing to think about that — and frustrating to know that only in May 2018, the National Aerial Firefighting Centre asked for a $11m top up to its annual budget that was left ignored:

The business case shows the annual costs of leasing aircraft and coordinating that NAFC have been rising due to inflation, but the contribution from the federal government has remained the same.

On Saturday morning, the NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said: “We haven’t seen a positive response to that business case.”

The NAFC – which works coordinates aerial firefighting across all states and territories – asked the federal government for an extra $11m a year, on top of the existing $14.8m a year budgeted in the five years to 2017-18.

I could go on, but there’s a limit to how much rage you can put down in words all at once. Government aside though, the bushfire response has been great. More than half a million people across the globe have pledged a total of $30 million to the NSW RFS through Celeste Barber’s Facebook fundraiser. The firefighting efforts have been heroic. The clothes and food fundraising for Victoria has been so overwhelming that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been urging people to donate cash instead, stating that other donations have now become a logistical issue.

If you’re still looking to donate, check out the following pages:

[Red Cross]
[Vinnies]
[Community Enterprise Foundation]
[CFA]
[RFS]
[Foodbank]
[World Wildlife Fund]
[Givit]
[Gippsland Emergency Relief]
[Wildlife Victoria]
[Zoos Victoria]
[WIRES]

Happy Holidays!

December 21, 2019

Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings! We’ll be back next year. See you then.

Mobile First Marketing

October 19, 2019

Every time I see a comment by someone lamenting that everyone nowadays is on their phone, I confess I get annoyed. Yes, I’m a millennial, and I like my phone. It’s the first thing I check in the morning and often the last thing I check at night. Through the phone, I can access my banking app, budgeting apps, books, emails, music, film, friends, order food, call a cab, and more. It’s a powerful computer that fits in my hand. Why shouldn’t I be on my phone? What else is there to look at anyway – everyone else who’s also looking at their phones? It’s true that phone addiction is real, and has mental health risks:

Another study, presented last month at the Radiological Society of North America conference, looked at the brains of teens who fell into the category of smartphone or internet addiction. The authors found some differences in the chemistry of the reward circuits of the brain, particularly in the ratio of the neurotransmitter GABA to other neurotransmitters. Interestingly, when the teens went through cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for their addiction, their brain chemistry changed and looked more like non-addicted controls.

Earlier studies have also looked at activity in the addiction circuits of the teenage brain when they’re actually interacting with social media. It found that cells in one of these areas, the nucleus accumbens, were activated when participants viewed Instagram pictures with more “likes.”

In Australia, according to studies, 88% of people have a smartphone. This makes Australia one of the foremost adopters of smartphones in the world. While there are detriments to smartphone ownership, there are also undeniable benefits. Staying connected to business and personal and social matters aside, smartphones and their ready access to the internet and social media have advanced causes across the world beyond traditional press, bringing a spotlight onto issues such as Black Lives Matter and the Hong Kong protests. Regardless, smartphone usage will only keep rising across the world, and as such, brands need to increasingly understand mobile-first marketing strategies.

About Mobile First Marketing

Recently, I tried to book tickets for a chicken event in Melbourne. The desktop website worked, but the mobile website only loaded to a single image, with no booking for. To book on my phone on the go, I had to try requesting the Desktop site, and in the end, it was just too hard. The first lesson for people looking at mobile-first marketing therefore, in our opinion, is to have a mobile-first website. This means that at the very least, the website should function on a phone. Preferably, however, it should also be designed with mobile in mind, responsive to various resolution settings so it can look good across devices. This is the most basic part of any digital strategy — even if you don’t necessarily want a mobile-first marketing campaign strategy, your website should be accessible even if someone is using a phone or a tablet.

The second part of a mobile-first marketing strategy is the bit that most people are familiar with: ads on websites and ads run across social media, among other things. These ads would be built to be seen over a mobile phone, and as such should connect to a landing page / result that is mobile-friendly. The ad or piece of media itself should be easily accessible for phone users: in other words, more image-heavy, with an obvious call-to-action, maybe with contextual targeting (geolocations, messaging etc), with a view toward how your audience would handle the strategy.

Some tips

Some things to keep in mind about mobile-first marketing strategies:

  • Research. You need information about your audience before being able to come up with a good strategy. Does your audience use phones often? What kind of apps or sites do they tend to visit? Do they buy your product on the phone? Find out.
  • Video. You might have seen the hilarious bit of news this week about how Facebook had to pay a slap-on-the-wrist fine for inflating its video views. That being said, it’s still good to have video / gif-based content on the mobile. Make sure it’s still understandable without audio.
  • Social Media is King. If your mobile-first marketing strategy isn’t pivoting off social media platforms, you’re wasting your time. Depending on your product and your audience, you might have to consider running content off Facebook, Pinterest, or even Tiktok.
  • Do you really need an app? App installs can be a tough sell to anyone, even the most tech-savvy. We’ve got an article on that. To make your strategy the most accessible, we’d recommend websites or messaging instead of trying to get your audience to install an app. The app graveyard is growing.
  • Retargeting. Even if your audience moves off that shiny piece of content you made for them, you can try attracting their attention again with retargeting.

Want to chat? Need to know more? Get in touch.

Facebook Inflated Video Metrics

October 19, 2019

There’s been yet another #DeleteFacebook campaign doing the rounds on Twitter recently. I can’t even keep track of exactly what the problem was this time. Facebook turning out to have secretly held meetings with conservative political figures? Or the awkward trademark dispute over its logo for its doomed crypto venture? Something worse? It’s easy to think that Facebook is flailing when you’re just plugged into social media, but Facebook is still a juggernaut. With 2.41 billion monthly users worldwide, Facebook is still the world’s biggest social media network.

As to why it’s back on the news, a brief Google search indicates that it’s because Zuckerberg gave a speech in Washington about Facebook’s decision not to ban political ads because they should “err on the side of greater expression”. Rather hilariously, he went on to reference Martin Luther King Jr, a man who the FBI and others had spread disinformation about when he was alive. MLK’s daughter, Bernice King, swiftly responded by noting that disinformation spread by politicians had led to an “atmosphere” that led to his assassination:

The event came three days after it emerged that since July, the Facebook chief executive had hosted private dinners at several of his homes to which he had invited conservative journalists, commentators and at least one Republican politician. These social events followed claims that the firm had shown bias against the right.

Facebook has also recently been attacked on the left, by two of the leading candidates in the contest to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren paid to run an intentionally misleading advert on its platform that claimed Mark Zuckerberg had personally endorsed Donald Trump for re-election. She said she had done so in protest against the firm’s decision to allow politicians to run ads containing” known lies”.

“When profit comes up against protecting democracy, Facebook chooses profit,” she claimed.

A spokesman for Joe Biden had previously criticised the firm for refusing to remove a video posted by Donald Trump’s re-election campaign which promoted an unproven conspiracy theory involving the former vice president and his son.

“It is unacceptable for any social media company to knowingly allow deliberately misleading material to corrupt its platform,” Mr Biden’s press secretary said.

Depressing as it is to see Facebook continue to prefer profits over consequences, it’s hardly unusual. After all, this is a week where the NBA’s increasingly awkward backpedalling over the Hong Kong issue has put paid to their reputation as the most “woke” sports organisation. This isn’t what we’re looking at for the purposes of this article though, even if it’s good for your overall privacy online if you do decide to delete Facebook. We’re looking at the relatively small Facebook scandal that’s somehow flown under the radar: that Facebook inflated its video metrics in order to pull more people to the platform.

Video Metrics and You

Facebook agreed to pay advertisers $40mil in cash for inflating video metrics. Here’s how it happened:

The lawsuit in question began in October 2016 as two separate cases, but eventually combined into one lawsuit filed against Facebook. The core of the complaint regarded how Facebook calculated metrics that were being promoted to advertisers. One metric, “Average Duration of Video Viewed,” purported to represent the average number of seconds users watched a given video. A second metric, “Average Percentage of Video Viewed,” calculated the percentage of a video ad that users watched. According to the lawsuit, Facebook incorrectly calculated Average Duration of Video Viewed, misrepresenting the engagement of its videos in a way that made the platform look more appealing to video advertisers.

“The Average View Duration error, in turn, led to the Average Percentage Viewed metric also being inflated,” the complaint states. “The plaintiffs contend these errors inflated the average-watch-times shown to advertisers by several orders of magnitude. As a result, Plaintiffs allege the metrics indirectly impacted billing, since (all else being equal) advertisers are likely to pay more for video ads that are being watched longer.”

Hence, last week Facebook agreed to pay advertisers $40 million in cash for inflating video metrics the company provided to digital media platforms in 2016 and 2017. It is estimated that had the case actually gone to trial, and not settled privately, they may have recovered between $100 million and $200 million in damages.

In Facebook’s defense, the company said it corrected the error after it was discovered and made a public announcement in September 2016. Yet the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit allege that the company’s engineers knew of the errors for over a year before the company’s public announcement.

“The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” an amended complaint stated.

Facebook had likely done this in order to compete with YouTube. Manipulating video metrics like this has created a false impression that has had serious consequences for previously profitable companies, as advertises wasted money and manpower chasing views on Facebook:

Adam Conover, a former employee of College Humor, took to Twitter to narrate how Facebook eviscerated a booming online comedy industry. In a series of tweets, the now podcaster explained how Facebook’s inflated metrics lured College Humor and Funny or Die to divert resources from other channels into the social media platform. In the beginning of his tweetstorm, Conover provided background on how College Humor (CH) was doing well. The company was making money before Facebook made big claims. This profitable setup would be torn apart after the company heard the news of unbelievable viewership numbers on Facebook. As CH relied heavily on Facebook to get viewership, their site visits plummeted. Consequently, ad rates and video budgets followed suit.

[…]

It was the same case for NZ on Air. They saw their videos rack up views from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands on the social media platform. Thus, the broadcast company spent millions of dollars. They created dozens of new jobs to cater to their viewers on Facebook. They even rerouted funds from sources such as TV, radio, display, print and outdoor. Then they found out that their viewership data was a lie.

Given the damage, and the money that Facebook has already made out of lying to everyone, a $40million settlement is low.

Pivot to Video

Facebook has claimed that it’s just an innocent mistake, which is also hilarious when you look at it. Because of the error, many news sites — not just comedy sites — had pivoted to Facebook video, which has affected print journalism. Ad agencies have encouraged their clients to make video content for Facebook based on the metrics, which would’ve made results look good but would’ve actually meant money paid into nothing.

Video still works. A great ad does get shared around over social media, and a great ad on traditional tv can motivate particular audiences. What this fiasco really means is that we have to be more careful about setting KPIs — and about not putting all your eggs in one basket. Facebook is still a great place to advertise — it’s still the biggest social media platform in the world. But it isn’t the only one.

Want to know more? Get in touch.

Tearjerker Advertising

October 5, 2019

I hate crying during films, even if I can’t help it. I don’t like how you have to hide your sniffles and try to surreptitiously palm tissue out of your bag, or how I pretty much felt emotionally drained after films like Moana and Coco. Ads are worse, since I usually watch them in the office in order to decide whether they’re good enough to post on our social media. Anything with cute puppies is usually an easy sell for me. I confess I’ve cried in the office over Budweiser ads, Shiseido ads, and even an IKEA ad. Tearjerker Advertising is memorable, easily shareable, and built for contemporary attention spans: a very short emotional film that just happens to sell a product.

At the same time, there’s been an increasing backlash towards brands tacking themselves onto movements without actually contributing much more than a token nod to the cause. Dove, I’m looking at you. After a few award-winning femvertising campaigns, including #LikeAGirl, Dove stepped into it in 2017 with its ill-considered and crass Real Beauty Bottles campaign:

The question is: why? The concept – six differently shaped bottles of shower gel, designed (in Dove’s words) to “evoke the shapes, sizes, curves and edges that combine to make every woman their very own limited edition” – might have seemed compelling in an energetic brainstorming meeting, but that’s surely where it should have stayed. Packaging is one of the most important ways a brand communicates with its customers, and translating a bunch of different body shapes into plastic is crass. As one Twitter user pointed out: “The Dove bottle with my body type hurts my feelings.” And therein lies the rub: allowing customers to “choose” a bottle that mirrors their body shape is the opposite of empowering. Suddenly, shower gel is as fraught with body-image dilemmas as their jeans purchase.

Not sure if Dove reacted very much to the controversy, since the video’s still up on their brand YouTube. That being said, there was criticism over even its earlier award-winning femvertising campaigns:

Why no major ad critics have aggressively called Dove’s bluff on this unethical fakery is amazing to me. But finally, Tom Ellis-Jones writing for U.K. trade publication Marketing, called foul on Dove’s latest ad “Choose Beautiful” — where women in five cities around the world were given a choice to walk through one of two doors labelled “Average” and “Beautiful.”

First, he noticed that the woman in the opening scene was an actress, Dezi Solèy. He then went on to call the ad’s scenes “perfectly engineered … clichés being dressed up as a genuine social experiment.”

Watch the ad closely and you’ll see he’s right — the reactions, what’s said in the interviews, the mom playfully pulling her daughter through the “Beautiful” door — it’s all just so perfectly wonderful, isn’t it?

It’s an ad — it’d be scripted, and chances are, the people in it are paid actors. The ad can still resonate emotionally with people, and it did. Dove’s Real Beauty campaigns caused sales to jump from $2.5 to 4 billion in the first ten years of the campaign. It might not be entirely ethical, but it worked, and they won awards for it. Speaking of which, is it possible for a brand to have authentic, ethical tearjerker advertising?

Tearjerker Advertising and Ethics

Ethics and advertising? You’d be forgiven for thinking that they can’t be said positively in the same sentence. Given that in this day and age, many people do buy brands that align with their personal beliefs, brands have to tread carefully for fear of being seen as inauthentic. Take Samsung’s extremely choreographed ad with clunky brand advertising in its script, Hearing Hands:

Made by Leo Burnett, the ad went quickly viral online, racking up millions of views. We’re not sure if Leo Burnett consulted very many deaf people in the build up to this ad, because the reaction wasn’t all policy — from the deaf community:

It’s pretty obvious that the vision here has been created by hearing people…for hearing people. And most likely done with little input from the Deaf Community itself. The whole tone of this video is doing FOR the Deaf person, rather than WITH the Deaf person. What comes across isn’t a sense of empowerment…it’s a sense of pity. We see Muharrem as this “poor deaf guy” whom we have to help, for whom we have to do these nice, kind things to help him have a “special day” – as if he was a child that we have to encourage to smile.

[…]

So please…put away that box of tissues. Stop feeling sorry for this guy and his obviously “anything but normal life in a silent world.” Stop applauding these folks who came together to help create an advertisement. Yes, this video might have gotten people thinking – but did it really change their views about Deaf people? Judging from what I have read…not really. We’re still being labeled with the wrong terms, seen as suffering from an affliction, viewed as objects of pity. We are still characters being used to make people cry and feel sorry for us, rather than making them cheer and feel proud of us.

I realize that Samsung had the best of intentions here. I do applaud their efforts at creating accommodations. That’s what we in the Deaf Community want and need – Equal Communication Access. I do wish the company the very best of luck with this video calling center. But I’m not sure that their approach here is as positive, as sensitive or as Deaf-Friendly as it could and should be.

Another tearjerker campaign is Microsoft’s push to inspire more young girls to pursue careers in STEM, including their recent “She Can STEM” campaign:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWWgicq-bU4

As well as earlier ads like the “Make What’s Next” campaign:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5soEtBwH0Y

This would be more heartwarming if Microsoft tried walking the walk. According to Reuters, women make up 26% of Microsoft’s worldwide work force, and only 19% of its leadership. Worse, there’s been a pervasive sexual harassment and discrimination issue:

Microsoft received 238 internal complaints of gender discrimination or sexual harassment from 2010 to 2016, according to court filings made public in March. It was sued in a Seattle federal court in 2015 for systematically denying pay raises or promotions to women. The company has denied these claims.

The company said in March it had dealt with 83 complaints of harassment and 84 complaints of gender discrimination in 2017. The complaints resulted in about 20 employees being fired.

So sure. Girls can look forward to a STEM career in Microsoft — if they’re happy being paid less, promoted less, and maybe harassed in the mix. It makes you laugh.

On a more positive note, Gillette recently ran an ad about combating toxic masculinity, with their “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” campaign:

The trolls promptly came out of the woodwork, but the ad was overall well-received by its audience:

On January 13, Gillette released a new ad that takes the company’s 30-year-old slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get,” and turns it into an introspective reflection on toxic masculinity very much of this cultural moment. Titled “We Believe,” the nearly two-minute video features a diverse cast of boys getting bullied, of teens watching media representatives of macho guys objectifying women, and of men looking into the mirror while news reports of #MeToo and toxic masculinity play in the background. A voiceover asks “Is this the best a man can get?” The answer is no, and the film shows how men can do better by actively pointing out toxic behavior, intervening when other men catcall or sexually harass, and helping protect their children from bullies. The ad blew up; as of Wednesday afternoon it has more than 12 million views on YouTube, and #GilletteAd has trended on Twitter nationwide. Parents across Facebook shared the YouTube link in droves, many mentioning how the ad brought them to tears.

[…]

Gillette’s ad plays on the feeling that men right now want to be better, but don’t necessarily know how. When Gillette was researching market trends last year, in the wake of #MeToo and a national conversation about the behavior of some of the country’s most powerful men, the company asked men how to define being a great man, according to Pankaj Bhalla, North American brand director for Gillette. The company conducted focus groups with men and women across the country, in their homes, and in online surveys. What Bhalla says the team heard over and over again was men saying: “I know I’m not a bad guy. I’m not that person. I know that, but what I don’t know is how can I be the best version of ourselves?”

“And literally we asked ourselves the same question as a brand. How can we be a better version of ourselves?” Bhalla adds. The answer is this ad campaign, and a promise to donate $1 million a year for three years to nonprofits that support boys and men being positive role models.

This dual-pronged approach of not just being unafraid to offend part of its core audience, as well as supporting the community by earmarking donations to nonprofits, makes a campaign like this stand out, authenticity wise. Oh, and the ad is great, too.

Things to Think About

Emotionally resonant ads are a great way to get your ad widespread attention, but there can be pitfalls and risk if not approached in the right manner. Some quick tips, in summary:

  • Be genuine and authentic. Your brand should be genuinely interested in the social issue that forms the core of the ad.
  • Involve others. Consult with advocacy groups and the community in that area of interest.
  • Do some good. Earmarking money for donations to support the issue will go a long way to making it clear that your brand is genuinely interested in the matter.
  • Have the ad as part of a core strategy, not just a throwaway.
  • If all else fails, make a story about cute dogs.

Still curious? Get in touch.

Scroll to Top