Starship Articles

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]
[Community Enterprise Foundation]
[World Wildlife Fund]
[Gippsland Emergency Relief]
[Wildlife Victoria]
[Zoos Victoria]

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:

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

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.

Melbourne Food Recs

October 4, 2019

Australia’s Good Food Guide’s Awards just came out for 2020, sparking off the usual round of amusement and drama. Arguing about food is a nice reprieve among the global political shitshow. If you’ve been keeping up with food news around the world, you might have seen the lawsuit filed against Michelin by French celebrity chef Marc Veyrat, who is partly famous for his distinctive hat. Yes, his hat. To add to the ridiculousness of this spat, Marc complained because he had 1. lost a star over 2. judging which he felt wronged in, including thinking that Michelin had deducted a star partly because they’d thought he’d used cheddar in a cheese souffle when he hadn’t (??) and that 3. Michelin apparently thought his scallops were mealy when they couldn’t be because they were cooked in passionfruit shells.

I love food, and I love food drama almost as much. Not so much the restaurant pay drama, which isn’t funny and which I hope everyone involved in the mass wage theft in the industry gets what’s coming to them. Slap fights in the media over cheese souffles though? Bring it on. According to the Washington Post:

Veyrat’s restaurant, roughly 100 miles east of Lyon, was first awarded the coveted three-star Michelin ranking in 2018. Much of the food in the $330-to-$430 tasting menu comes from the restaurant’s own botanic gardens and orchards.

The famed chef learned in January that his restaurant was losing a star just one year after it had achieved the three-star ranking — widely considered among the most prestigious distinctions in the fine-dining business.

“I’ve been in a depression for six months. How dare you take hostage the health of cooks?” Veyrat lamented during his July interview with Le Point, during which he blamed the “amateur” nature of the Michelin reviewers.

“It scares me for the new generations to come. In fact, the only reason given was confusion over the Reblochon and Beaufort emulsion with cheddar,” he said. He went on to call the Michelin reviewers “impostors” who deliberately stir up fights for “commercial reasons.”

Australia doesn’t yet get the Michelin guide, so there isn’t any Michelin drama here — but maybe it’s only a matter of time. In any case, before the stars get handed out, here’s our non-definitive list of what we love in Melbourne. We’ll do a Fave Five for each section, or we’ll be here forever.

Melbourne Food Recs — Starship Edition

Despite being a massive continent, African food isn’t as well-represented in Melbourne as some other cuisines. We’re hoping for more.

  • Kamel (19 Victoria Ave, Albert Park VIC 3206): Serving North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, Kamel has a delicious selection of mezze share plates.
  • Mesob (213 High St, Northcote VIC 3070): A traditional Ethiopian restaurant, large platters of lentils and meat stews are served with injera, fermented pancakes that you use in place of spoons. Delicious.
  • New Somali Kitchen (284 Racecourse Rd, Flemington VIC 3031): Never tried Somalian food? You’re in luck. Its original restaurant was targeted at homesick Somalians, but the Flemington one is for the bigger community. Try the braised lamb.
  • Polēpolē (1/267 Little Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Located in the city, this is the place to try African game meat if you’re curious.
  • The Abyssinian (277 Racecourse Rd, Kensington VIC 3031): Described as “slow food from the horn of Africa”, this Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant has been popular for years. It also has vegan options.

Honourable Mentions: Konjo, Little Africa, Saba’s, Savanna.

American food – particularly American-style BBQ – has been popular in Melbourne for a while. There are lots of options.

  • Belles Hot Chicken (Various): “Hot chicken, natural wines” is now Belles’ selling point. Visit for a big, delicious serve of Southern-style fried chicken. We mourn its original diner iteration, which had an amazing Key Lime Pie though.
  • Bluebonnet (124-126 Lygon St, Brunswick East VIC 3057): Texan-styled BBQ, worth the trip up to where it’s now at – a permanent home after years of pop-ups and a fire that destroyed an earlier restaurant.
  • Le Bon Ton (51 Gipps St, Collingwood VIC 3066): A New Orleans-inspired BBQ joint, come for the brisket and stay for the fried chicken and burgers.
  • Parlour (64 Chapel St, Windsor VIC 3181): Speaking of diners, Parlour does a fantastic key lime pie, along with burgers and hotdogs and milkshakes. Very retro.
  • Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteaks (Various): What it says on the tin – serving the only authentic philly cheesesteak in Victoria.

Honourable Mentions: Girl with the Gris Gris, Kodiak Club, Pizza Pizza Pizza, The Collection Bar.

What is Australian cuisine anyway? It’s hard to pin down. We think of it as Miscellaneous European-ish Stuff Served in Australia, I guess.

  • Attica (74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea VIC 3185): Surely Attica doesn’t need much introduction. It’s the first restaurant featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table series, one of the top restaurants in the world. It’s as pretentious as it looks, but the food is inventive and great.
  • Dexter (456 High St, Preston VIC 3072): Dexter is technically maybe American-adjacent BBQ, but its wildly inventive menu can’t really be described as American. It’s famous for meat donuts. Yes, you read that right. It’s not as weird as it seems.
  • Lûmé (226 Coventry St, South Melbourne VIC 3205): Once one of our favourite restaurants in the world for its innovative menu serving unusual elements (cow udder? squid entrails?), Lûmé is no longer as weird and crazy as it used to be, and it suffers for it. Still, it’s a great restaurant.
  • Mathilda 159 Domain (159 Domain Rd, South Yarra VIC 3141): We’re not sure why this restaurant put the street address in its name, but this latest venture by Scott Pickett serves well-considered, smoke-adjacent, modern Aussie food.
  • Royal Mail (519 Spencer St, West Melbourne VIC 3003): This place warrants a mention on this list because it’s the only place where you can eat not just the Australian flag (emu and kangaroo) but a whole host of other Australian game on Wednesdays’ “Roadkill night” (Now renamed Australian Game night). Including possum.

Honourable Mentions: Amaru, Carlton Wine Room, Charcoal Lane, Congress, IDES, Viva Kebabs (Halal Snack Pack).

A food group that Melbourne takes very, very seriously. Waiting for 10-20 minutes is common for a good brunch place in Melbourne, as is paying upwards of $20pp for a dish. You might have seen Americans laugh at how much our avo toast costs. Spoiler: there’s a good reason for that.

  • Auction Rooms (103-107 Errol St, North Melbourne VIC 3051): There’s often a long queue outside the Auction Rooms, and for good reason: the food’s great. Head on over to Mork afterward across the street for some unusual hot chocolate to round off your North Melbourne visit.
  • Crux and Co (GO1/35 Albert Rd, Melbourne VIC 3004): Beautiful, hipster breakkie opposite the more crowded Kettle Black. Great selection of cakes.
  • Hash (113 Hardware St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Hash is pretty good, but what pushes it onto this list is the delicious, made-for-Instagram fairy floss hot chocolate.
  • Sonido! (69 Gertrude St, Fitzroy VIC 3065): Looking for something a little different? Try this South American cafe that specialises in arepas.
  • Top Paddock (658 Church St, Richmond): Love, love the big breakfast at this amazing cafe, which includes Kettle Black and Higher Ground in the group. Was recently sold, though, so we’re not sure how good it is now, but if you do get around to any of the cafes, try their famous ricotta hotcakes.

Honourable mentions: Journeyman, Kuu Cafe, Magic Mountain Saloon, Operator 21, Pillar of Salt, Proper & Son, Touchwood, Twenty and Six Espresso.

What’s a food rec list without burgers, especially in Melbourne, the home of the brioche bun hipster overload?

  • 1090 Burger (181A Swan St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Served in an unpretentious shop, these Angus beef burgers are slathered with a delicious, top-secret sauce.
  • 8bit (Various): To be fair, I’m more into the hot dogs in 8bit than the burgers, but it does both well, with a retro gaming theme to boot. The sides are great too. Get potato gems, or loaded chips, or onion rings.
  • Betty’s (Various): A franchise originally out of Queensland, Betty’s is the undisputed favourite in the office, with its delicious patties and buns. Bust out for a concrete (dense ice cream) if youre feeling it.
  • Rockpool’s Burger Bar (Crown, Melbourne): Looking to splurge on a Wagyu patty made out of actual David Blackmore wagyu? Rockpool has you covered. It’s a very good burger, but will burn your wallet.
  • Royal Stacks (470 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000): One of us is mildly obsessed with the Big Mac sauce, and Royal Stacks does something close – except with a great burger to boot.

Honourable Mentions: Andrew’s, Danny’s, Grand Trailer Park Taverna, Leonard’s House of Love, Smoke and Pickles, Tuck Shop Takeaway.

China is massive, and that doesn’t even count the diaspora. It’s hard to list every good Chinese place we like in Melbourne.

  • HuTong (14-16 Market Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000): A xiao long bao (soup dumpling) specialist that makes the best xiao long bao in the city. The rest of its menu isn’t exactly inspiring, but it’s worth a visit just for the dumplings.
  • Shandong Mama (Mid City, 7/200 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Great authentic recipes from the Shandong province, this bustling dumpling place does amazing panfried dumplings with tons of variety.
  • Hi Chong Qing (UniLodge D2, 26 Orr St, Carlton VIC 3053): Specialising in beef noodles from Chong Qing, this is a great, cheap noodle option.
  • Tim Ho Wan (206 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000): The original restaurant has a Michelin star in Hong Kong, and is massively popular. The queues in Melbourne have died down, making it a good time to check out this place if you haven’t. Try the pork buns, the dish that gave it the Michelin star.
  • Sharks Fin House (131 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000): An institution in Chinatown and a firm favourite for many dim sum aficionados, we’d recommend trying to get in during dim sum hour on a weekend. Want to order dim sum like a local? Get the century egg congee, the roast pork cheong fun (flat noodles), har kow and siew mai, and round it off with sweet beancurd tau hway and egg tarts. There’s also Gold Leaf (Various) now in the Docklands.

Honourable Mentions: Dainty Sichuan, Dragon Hot Pot, Kitchen Republik, Pancake Village, Roast Duck Inn, Secret Kitchen, Supper Inn, Wonderbao.

Any list of Melbourne food recs has to have a coffee list, which although is not precisely food, is what hipster Melbourne is famous for. Some of our faves are:

  • Industry Beans (3/62 Rose St, Fitzroy): Also doubles as an extremely hipster brunch spot in a pinch. Also has a branch open on Collins St in the city.
  • Brother Baba Budan (359 Lt Bourke St, Melbourne): One of the most well-known coffee places in Melbourne. Not sure what’s with the chairs hanging from the ceiling, though.
  • Market Lane (Various locations): Used to serve coffee just “Black” or “White” or “Filter. Menu has expanded slightly.
  • Patricia (Cnr Lt Bourke and Lt William St, Melbourne): Another one of those limited menu coffee places. Standing room only.
  • St Ali (12-18 Yarra Pl, South Melbourne): Has a delicious brunch as well. Sells merch, which amuses me. Does anyone really buy St Ali merch? Bonus: St Ali’s wholesaler runs Sensory Lab, a bunch of coffee joints in the city, which you might know as the viral battleground for two of its superfans.

Honourable Mentions: Assembly, Axil, Duke’s, Everyday, Padre.

For anyone who has a sweet tooth, Melbourne has lots to offer.

  • Bibelot (285-287 Coventry St, South Melbourne VIC 3205): This beautiful French cafe will greet you with a jewelry case of delicious cakes and inventive chocolates. Try the tasting plate, or kick back with its great hot chocolate.
  • Burch & Purchese (647 Chapel St, South Yarra VIC 3141): Probably the best cake shop in Melbourne, we love its shooters and mourn the fact that it no longer delivers to Burnley. The chocolate is great too.
  • Lune (Various): You’d have heard of this one – considered the best croissant in the world by the New York Times, Lune is a cult croissant that often sells out by the afternoon. Check out its original shop in Fitzroy for the Starship Enterprise-esque lighting.
  • Om Nom (Adelphi Hotel, Melbourne): A sweets specialist, Om Nom makes beautiful, restaurant-level desserts. Looking for several flavours of chocolate on chocolate soil served in a glass dome? A tower of mango profiteroles? Head to Om Nom.
  • Wonderpop & Deli (18 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000): This contemporary pie shop serves anything from lasagne pie to giant marshmallows, but we’re really here for the delicious apple pie.

Honourable Mentions: Agathe, Hopetoun Tea Room, Penny for Pound, Koko Black, Miss Marple’s Tea Room, Mork Chocolate, Windsor (High tea), T by Luxbite.

We’d apologise for stuffing Europe into one category, but then again, we did that for China and Africa, which are way bigger.

  • L’Hotel Gitan (32 Commercial Rd, Prahran VIC 3181): By far my favourite French place in Melbourne, this restaurant is more of a gastropub, with great rotisseries, and more importantly, a really great dessert.
  • Tipo00 (361 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000): A must-try if you’re in Melbourne, this incredible pasta bar makes pasta that’s comparable to what we’ve had in Italy. Portions are on the small side, and dessert is terrible, but go for the pasta and starters.
  • Añada (197 Gertrude St, Fitzroy VIC 3065): Delicious, refined Spanish food and tapas, this restaurant is a Fitzroy institution.
  • Dinner by Heston (Crown, Melbourne): Surely Heston Blumenthal doesn’t need an introduction as the UK’s most famous food export next to maybe Jamie Oliver and fish and chips. Try in particular his Pineapple Tipsy Cake.
  • Mjølner (106 Hardware St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Modern Scandinavian food from a Marvel fan, a meal here starts with you being presented with a variety of knives and can end with fire, if you pick the delicious Bombe Alaska.

Honourable Mentions: 48h Pizza e Gnocci, Agostino, Bar Carolina, Bar Margaux, Noir, Capitano, Connie’s Pizza, Hereford Beefstouw, Stalactites, Swiss Club, Movida.

Ice Cream
Why does this get its own category? Well, why not.

  • Gelato Messina (Various): Inventive modern ice-cream, Messina also does weekly themed ice creams. It’s too late now, but their Game of Thrones range whenever the show was running used to be hilarious.
  • Glacé (Various): Mainly an ice cream cake shop that pushes the boundaries of what ice cream cakes can be, Glacé also does do ice cream – but why eat that when you can try their cakes? They have little tasting platters too.
  • Il Melograno (76 High St, Northcote VIC 3070): Sicilian gelato shop with a really great ricotta ice cream, a must-try if you’re ever in the area.
  • Lavezzi (334 Lygon St, Carlton VIC 3053): A fourth-generation gelato shop right in Lygon. Check it out if you’re close by.
  • Pidapipo (Various): Another great gelato shop known for its watermelon and pistachio flavours.

Honourable Mentions: Billy van Creamery, Dex2Rose, Miinot, Nitro Lab, Piccolina, Weirdoughs.

Indian food is awesome. From the breadth of the food available – vegan? No problem – to the complexity of their make-up, here’s our faves.

  • Delhi Streets (22 Katherine Pl, Melbourne VIC 3000): Always packed, this modern Indian diner serves incredible butter chicken, eggplant masala, and chaat. Try the mixed thalis and get some starters.
  • Ish (199 Gertrude Street Fitzroy 3065): Amazingly good modern Indian food. Loved the tandoori and the butter chicken. Check out the cocktails.
  • Tonka (20 Duckboard Place Melbourne 3000): Upmarket Indian food from the team behind Tonka, with delicious naans, snacks, and dishes. Getting a booking is usually at trial and a half particularly for popular times.
  • 3 Idiots (378 Bridge Rd, Richmond VIC 3121): This hilariously named Bridge Road cafe does an Indian-inspired brunch menu too, but you should visit for the buttery breads and the curries. Specialising in Mumbai cuisine.
  • Aangan (Various): One of the most well-known Indian restaurants in town, the original store in Footscray has been trucking along for over a decade.

Honourable Mentions: Daughter-in-law, Babu Ji, Two Fat Indians, Kake Di Hatti.

There’s a huge breadth of Japanese food available in Melbourne at all price levels.

  • Minamishima (4 Lord St, Richmond VIC 3121): No “Best of” Japan list in Melbourne can exclude Minamishima, a highly exclusive sushi restaurant with an equally exclusive pricetag.
  • Tempura Hajime (60 Park St, South Melbourne VIC 3205): A tiny restaurant run by a chef from Osaka and his family, tempura is fried right before you and served fresh onto your plate. You can also get nigiri sushi made right before your eyes.
  • Yamato (28 Corrs Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000): Stepping into this restaurant is like squeezing sideways through time and space into Tokyo. Reasonably priced and with a menu that hasn’t changed for years.
  • Ishizuka (Basement level b01/139 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Kaiseki by Tomotaka Ishizuka, a subtle, highly nuanced, beautifully presented degustation. Its refusal to cater for dietary requirements reminded me of dining in Japan, but if you’re not picky and don’t have dietary needs, it’s well worth a trip – if you can find the restaurant.
  • Ippudo (QV Shopping Centre, 18/300 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000): You’ve probably seen the queues outside this alley restaurant in QV. Delicious ramen with rich broth. Try the gyoza as well.

Honourable Mentions: Aka Siro, Kazuki, Kenzan, Izakaya Chuji, Kisume, Monou, Shimbashi, Shira Nui, Torissong, Wabi Sabi.

Korean food isn’t all fried chicken or BBQ. That being said, it’s a great pity that the modern, contemporary restaurant SHIK closed earlier this year.

  • Gami (Various): The fried chicken is plentiful and ubiquitous at this Korean fried chicken staple in Melbourne, but we also recommend the side dishes, like the cheese potato.
  • Hansang (347-349 King St, West Melbourne VIC 3003): Affordable and previously a student favourite, the secret’s out on this low-key restaurant with delicious banchan. 
  • CJ Lunch Bar (391 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000): This immensely popular shop on the corner of Hardware Lane and Little Lonsdale Street is another favourite of students. We love the bulgolgi.
  • ChangGo (70 Little La Trobe St, Melbourne): This Korean BBQ restaurant is all about pork, in particular, the Eight Flavour Pork set. Eight flavours of pork belly? You’re on. Get there very early or very late, or you’d be queuing for sure.
  • Oriental Spoon (Various): Another Melbourne staple that’s been here for years, Oriental Spoon is all about satisfying, expansive food. Check out their hot stews in particular.

Honourable Mentions: Pelicana, Samsam, Bornga, Guhng.

Middle Eastern
Increasingly popular in Melbourne, we love the sweets in particular.

  • Babajan (713 Nicholson St, Carlton North VIC 3054): A modern Turkish/Middle Eastern eatery in Carlton, everything is made from scratch and in-house.
  • Knafeh Nabulseyeh (74 Poath Rd, Hughesdale VIC 3166): Stocks shawarmas and such, but if you trekked all the way out to Hughesdale for this place, it’s probably for its authentic, Palestinian knafeh, an incredibly yummy dessert that has to be eaten to be believed.
  • Maha (21 Bond St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Shane Deliah’s Middle Eastern fine dining restaurant has huge portions. Its four course menu is really 12 items. Delicious all the way through to even the dessert.
  • New Jaffa (32 Stanley St, Collingwood VIC 3066): Hummus is the star of this Collingwood eatery, made fresh daily.
  • Rumi (East Brunswick, 116 Lygon St, Melbourne VIC 3057): One of the most popular restaurants in Melbourne, Rumi has a considered, subtle range of food that sets the bar.

Honourable Mentions: Bar Saracen, Mama Rumaan, Miznon, Souk, Tulum, Yagiz.

South America
Another region of the world with so many options in Melbourne that it’s hard to pick.

  • B’Cos Brazil (353 Little Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Portuguese is the main language spoken in this tiny, unassuming eatery, the only place in Melbourne CBD where you can get your hands on Brazilian staples like brigadeiros and pao de queijo.
  • Bodega Underground (55 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Amazing late night mezcal and taqueira in Chinatown. Delicious tacos, incredible lamb. Loved the desserts. They do a bottomless brunch on weekends that is often booked out.
  • CHE (296 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne, VIC): Stands for Chicken, Helado, Empanada, CHE is perhaps still unfortunately named because you can’t find it on a quick google search. Delicious roast chicken and empanada.
  • Mamasita (Level 1/11 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000): One of Melbourne’s most well-loved restaurants, Mamasita is contemporary Mexican, with an ever-changing menu that was one of the first few gluten-free ones in the city. Everything we’ve tried there was delicious.
  • Pastuso (19 AC/DC La, Melbourne VIC 3000): A Peruvian bar and grill, this is probably one of the few places in Melbourne where you can eat alpaca. Spoiler: It’s very much like beef, and when we were there, it was served braised.

Honourable Mentions: Asado, B’Churrasco, Club Colombia, El Sabor, Harley House, Hello Jose, Neruda’s, San Telmo.

Southeast Asia
To be honest, we struggled to pick 5. Southeast Asia is huge.

  • Jinda Thai (1-7 Ferguson St, Abbotsford VIC 3067): Widely considered one of the best Thai restaurants in Melbourne, you’d either have to book to get a spot or go at a weird hour. The green curry was delicious.
  • Blok M (380 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000): An old Melbourne restaurant specialising in authentic Indonesian food. Love the grilled chicken.
  • Laksa King (6-16 Pin Oak Cres, Flemington VIC 3031): This famous Flemington staple specialises in various types of laksa and other Malaysian staples. Try in particular the ngoh hiang, a fried beancurd dish stuffed with minced pork. And the laksa is awesome.
  • Uncle (Level 1/15 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Modern Vietnamese at the so-called Paris end of Collins Street, Uncle serves a delicious mix of both modern takes on Vietnamese food and classics like pho.
  • Jojo Little Kitchen (7/120 A’Beckett St, Melbourne VIC 3000): Jojo is a pan mee specialist, but everything we’ve tried there has been awesome. You can pick from a mix of noodles, toppings, and dry or soup bases. Personally, we prefer dry.

Honourable mentions: Soi 38, Roti Road, Go Noodle, Makan, GJ’s Grill, Aunty Franklee, Sunda, Lee Ho Fook.

Disruption and Brands

September 28, 2019

When James Monsees and Adam Bowen were studying product design in Stanford University, they became friends during the smoke breaks. Their struggle to quit smoking led them to try and create a product that might help. In 2007, they founded Ploom Inc, which became Pax Labs, and began development on a line of cannabis and nicotine vaporisers. This eventually created the product now known as Juul — a slim, silvery USB-stick like device that has become a massive hit, particularly among the young. Its unusual look, approach to marketing, and product was a huge disruption that paid off. It sold 2.2 million devices in 2016 during its first full year on the market, and has made $1.26 billion during the first half of 2019. Its flavoured pods are wildly popular — accounting to 80% of its sales — and it’s become part of pop culture, spawning its own hashtags on Instagram, and even accounts that follow celebrities like Sophie Turner / Sansa of Game of Thrones using its product. The beautiful silver device could be easily hidden, could be charged via USB, and didn’t look like the weird tacky devices that its competitors used. Juul disrupted the market by looking nothing like the market, and by being aggressive in its marketing.

It’s paying for it now. Via TIME:

On Sept. 9, the Food and Drug Administration sent Juul a warning letter accusing the company of violating federal regulations by promoting its e-cigarettes as a safer option than traditional cigarettes and threatening the company with fines and product seizures if it continued. Two days later, the Trump Administration said it planned to pull from the market flavoured e-cigarettes such as Juul’s mango, creme and mint pods. […] Given the possible risks to the nation’s youth, Juul’s rapid growth has been accompanied by remarkably little oversight or regulation. And while there is a legitimate debate over whether e-cigarettes are safer for adult smokers than traditional cigarettes, and whether they can help addicts quit smoking, critics argue that Juul has assiduously followed Big Tobacco’s playbook: aggressively marketing to youth and making implied health claims a central pillar of its business plan.

Disruption isn’t always a good thing, as you can see. Laws often race to keep up with new products, and as companies move to maximise profit in a climate of late-stage capitalism, they have the potential to spread harm more quickly than overloaded courts can keep up.

We Need to Talk about Uber

When Uber first started gaining traction in Australia, I didn’t dare to use it by myself. Getting into a stranger’s car? Trusting your safety to an app? It took me several trips with a friend to download it to my phone, and when I first used it in Singapore, my parents freaked out and insisted I get a cab. Now, Uber is ubiquitous. Not even my parents question it any longer. In Singapore, Uber has been eaten by the taxis’ Grab App, but in Australia Uber is not just going strong, it’s getting more popular. I use UberEats almost exclusively, and I hardly ever use cabs here.

That being said, the last time I was in an Uber car, the driver asked me and my passenger to download Didi, another app. It was a Chinese competitor, one that gave drivers a larger share of the profits. It got me thinking. Is Uber really the great disruption that it claims to be — that people usually raise when they even talk about disruptive brands — or is it a fraud, a cancer on its drivers and an investment disaster that people don’t want to see?

Uber itself has warned that it may never make a profit. Via Wired:

Everyone knows that Uber is loss-making — something that, in Silicon Valley circles at least, has become almost a badge of honor. But the extent of its losses, slowing revenue growth, potential overvaluation, and the fact that Uber has warned it may never actually make a profit, casts serious doubt over its plans for world domination. It has turned into what Alyssa Altman, transportation lead at digital consultancy Publicis Sapient, called “the magical money burning machine.”

Less than five months after the confirmation of its US $3.1 billion acquisition of Dubai-based rival Careem — which had been one of the worst-kept secrets in Mideast tech — Uber posted the biggest loss in its history: a cool $5.24 billion in the second quarter. Little wonder that the August 8 filing prompted a selloff in Uber stock, which in mid-August hit $34 a share, 25 percent below the price set in its disappointing IPO.

So just how did the world’s largest ride-hailing app — and multiple millionaire-maker for Careem employees and investors — lose so much money? One factor was the stock-based compensation that Uber paid its employees, which cost it about $3.9 billion — yet there are multiple factors behind the higher-than-expected additional loss.

There have also been rapes and more, even in Melbourne, and the response of ridesharing companies have tended to be lukewarm. Safety and profitability aside, Uber has been effectively abusing its drivers, the people who make the app possible in the first place. Drivers are not entitled to minimum wage, sick leave, or any benefits that full-time employees get, even though some of them do work full time. In Australia, Fair Work has determined that drivers aren’t classified in as employees. In California, it’s another story:

Workers in California have just won a major victory. On 10 September, California senators voted to pass AB5 – a groundbreaking piece of legislation that permanently closes a loophole allowing companies to misclassify their workers as contractors, denying them benefits and livable wages.

As a Lyft driver, I share this victory with other gig workers: the janitors, construction workers and housekeepers. I and thousands of other misclassified workers will finally get the rights and protections that all workers deserve. What’s more, AB5 could lay the groundwork for other states and countries to stand up and protect gig workers like me.

Another disruptor, AirBnB, has created unique problems for cities:

Many cities say the short-term holiday lettings boom is contributing to soaring long-term rents, although speculation and poor social housing provision are also factors. Last year Palma de Mallorca voted to ban almost all listings after a 50% increase in tourist lets was followed by a 40% rise in residential rents.

Many are now trying to take action: in Paris, landlords face a fine if they fail to register with city hall before letting any property short-term (although many do not), while Amsterdam has tried to cut its annual limit for holiday lets to one month in 12, and last year Barcelona suspended all new short-term rental permits.

But city authorities now fear that the EU’s attempts to promote e-commerce and the “sharing economy” across the bloc are impeding their efforts to ensure that neighbourhoods remain both affordable and liveable for residents.

“The cities are not against this type of holiday rental,” they said. “Tourism provides a city with income and jobs. They do think they should be able to set rules.”

If you think about Uber as “cabs, but unregulated”, and AirBnB as “renting, but unregulated”, you can see how and why the damage caused was so widespread. Laws are often put in place to regulate industries for a reason. By finding loopholes within the system, the gig economy — while extremely useful for many — has also created a host of problems that it’s ill-equipped to address. That’s unregulated disruption for you, and we should’ve seen it coming.

Is Disruption Really That Bad

Disruptive brands become successful because they address an untouched niche in the market. Being able to summon a car to you from anywhere using an app and watch it approach on your screen is great. Being able to book an apartment for a short holiday stay instead of a hotel is fun. Having a vaping device that looks futuristic is cool. They are, in a way, a natural result of market forces. Brands hope to come up with a disruptive product because of the way it has the potential to not just create tons of profit, but also because of the way they can then manoeuvre to dominate their particular industry.

In a way, by having identified these niches in the market, these brands have opened the way for competing brands to proliferate, brands that might address the ethical problems in their progenitor apps. FairBnB, for example, is trying to become an ethical alternative to AirBnB, with a pilot launching in a handful of European cities this year:

Fairbnb is launching a pilot in five European cities in April – Amsterdam, Venice and Bologna in Italy, and Valencia and Barcelona in Spain. The company pledges to give half its profits to local projects, such as housing for neighborhood associations, nonprofit food cooperatives or community gardens.

Veracruz said members of the community, as well as travelers, would be involved in suggesting which causes to support. He added that this investment policy would not make it more expensive than Airbnb, as the company will take the hit rather than passing these costs onto renters or hosts.

The company also promises to share data with regulators to help enforce local rules, and ensure each host rents out only one home. This might not eliminate some of the issues that annoy neighbors of Airbnb guests, such as noise. But it would stop people from posting multiple houses where they don’t live and don’t have to face the neighbors the next day.

For ridesharing, there’s now Via, which is trying to position itself as a more ethical company than Uber or Lyft. Some companies also try to course-correct, conscious of their public image. Juul has had to cut out all US advertising, and its CEO has stepped down. Too late, maybe, but it’s a start. Disruption for the sake of disruption might make a brand a lot of money (or the semblance of a lot of money) in the short term, but sooner or later, legislation will catch up. Building a great brand — a great company — can’t just be a case of having a cool idea. It has to be an adaptable idea too: one that will change according to raised challenges and issues.

Have a cool idea? Need some help working out the marketing and brand kinks? Get in touch.

What To Do When You're Expecting (Climate Change)

September 26, 2019

September 20th saw hundreds of thousands of people in Australia turn out in a massive climate strike, joining millions around the world. Speeches kicked off at 2pm and the march began around 3ish, with schoolkids supported by a variety of adults, including many businesses that signed on to the strike under Not Business As Usual. There was the usual hilarity from the climate deniers in power over in the Liberal Party, including Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who hilariously opined that “The facts are, there is no link between climate change and drought. Polar bears are increasing in number. Today’s generation is safer from extreme weather than at any time in human history.” This is a ridiculous statement in many ways, if only because there’s no logical connection between Kelly’s polar bear index, drought, and climate change. Polar bears are quickly losing their traditional habitat thanks to receding ice from climate change, bringing them into increasing conflict with people. And given that several extreme weather events happened recently — including the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, among others — and are happening more frequently… actually, why are we even trying to logic people like Kelly? You know he’s wrong. Trust the science.

That being said, the bitter reality of having a government of climate deniers in power has played out over a host of frustrating developments, from the ongoing Adani matter and the fracking nearby to the weird matter of the controversial Great Barrier Reef fund. It’s frustrating to see the two major political parties in this country agree that coal is still necessary:

And even as Swan says Labor must risk an unpopular policy, he defends Senator Penny Wong’s response to pleas from Pacific Island nations: No, she told them, an ALP federal government would not ban new coal mines.

“Coal is not the only issue in town,” Swan told ABC radio on Thursday. While we did need a rapid transition from fossil fuels, he said: “The truth is Australia produces about 4 per cent of the world’s thermal coal. If we’re going to reduce emissions in Australia, 19 per cent of our emissions come out of the transport sector.”

Talking down the impact of Australia’s coal will not put Labor on the right side of history. Australia’s domestic and export fossil fuel emissions now account for 5 per cent of global emissions but current coal, gas and oil developments could increase that to 12 to 17 per cent by 2030, according to study by Climate Analytics.

Frustrations aside, we’ve got to do something about climate change, right?

Beyond Straws and Veganism

Boycotting plastic straws and going vegan will not save the planet. 70% of the world’s greenhouse emissions generated since 1988 have come from just 100 companies:

ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron are identified as among the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988. If fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, says the report, global average temperatures would be on course to rise by 4C by the end of the century. This is likely to have catastrophic consequences including substantial species extinction and global food scarcity risks.

While companies have a huge role to play in driving climate change, says Faria, the barrier is the “absolute tension” between short-term profitability and the urgent need to reduce emissions.

There are some things you can do about that. Voting in government representatives who aren’t beholden to fossil fuel interests is a good start. Switching your energy purchase to green power companies, like Powershop’s Green Power packages, can help — and get your friends and family to switch too. Fly less: flying is probably your biggest contributor to your personal carbon footprint. Buy less fast fashion, use more public transport. Buy fewer disposables and fewer plastics. Install solar panels, if you have a roof that you own. And sure, eating less meat probably helps. These gestures are small, though, compared to what companies do and what governments decide. Pressure your governments to commit to a zero-emissions target. If they won’t, organise and protest, vote them out. Support an environmental charity. Even small things help.

There’s probably going to be another climate strike near you soon. Consider attending it.

Climate Change and Advertising

Companies can work on their own to try and help the world into a zero-emissions, low waste target. We have some thoughts here. The ad industry hasn’t been immune to pressures. Via AdNews:

Australia’s advertising industry could take a stand and lead the world, says David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific and the author of The Coal Truth (UWA Publishing, June 2018).

“Fossil fuel use is the number one driver of global warming. Any business that supplies the coal, oil and gas industry with commercial services is implicated in driving the climate emergency,” he says.

“The time has come for the advertising industry to say ‘enough’. Any advertising firm that takes work from the coal, oil or gas sectors is doing PR for the greatest threat to life on earth.

“Instead, the advertising industry in Australia could take a stand and lead the world, using all the skills of public communication to help shift us on a path to wise stewardship of our shared home.”

According to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study, 64% of consumers buy on belief. As environmental consciousness grows, brands — and agencies — that commit to a greener, more renewable future will emerge at the head of the pack. It isn’t just about biodegradable packaging or having a carbon offset. It’s not just about having the right kind of messaging. It’s also about committing to green initiatives, be it charities or getting involved at a political level. With many governments in the world either gridlocked at a policy level, beholden to fossil fuel interests, or just plain denying the truth, companies and people getting ahead on their own might be the best way forward. Good luck to us all.

The Fake News Plague

September 21, 2019

In the lead up to the trash fire that was the 2016 US elections, there was a rash of conspiracy theories about the Democrats and Hillary Clinton that were spread around by conservative media and trolls. Some were somewhat believable–like the one where she was supposedly Very Ill With Some Unnamed Illness, after footage of Hillary, a 70-year-old lady, was shown looking a little frail on film at one point. Some, you’d think, were just so batshit ridiculous that nobody could unironically believe they were real.

Or so I thought.

On October 2016, just before the election, a white supremacist Twitter account claimed that the NYPD had found a Democratic satanic paedophile ring that was being run out of a pizza parlour called Comet Ping Pong. You’d think that a conspiracy like that would be too funny to be taken as anything but a joke, yet further conservative “news” sites soon claimed, among other things, that the NYPD had raided Hillary’s home and that the raid was confirmed by the FBI. Over a million messages used #Pizzagate in 2016. The theory was soon picked up by various far-right activists and even ended up on the pro-Erdoğan government newspapers in Turkey. There were serious consequences for the restaurant: harassment and death threats. Bands tied to the restaurant were abused, as were similar restaurants in the same area, and businesses with similar names. Despite being widely debunked by news organisations, the matter came to a head early December 2016, when a man holding an AR-15 walked into the restaurant and started firing. No one was hurt. When arrested, the shooter said he’d decided to investigate Comet Ping Pong after seeing the matter brought up on Infowars, a far-right conspiracy site whose owner is currently being sued for defamation after driving harassment to the parents of children killed during the Sandy Hook mass shooting (he claimed they were just child actors). Despite people like Jones having to retract their statements and apologise to the owner of Comet Ping Pong since, a small fire was set at the back of Comet Ping Pong this year.

It’s easy to dismiss things like this as stuff that only deranged people will believe, but I’ve seen similar conspiracy theories spread by people closer to home. My college-educated corporate parents, for example, still spread the occasional fake news link over the family chat, which my brother and I have to instantly pounce on to debunk. There are also smaller conspiracies, debunked by science but still considered to be widely true by everyone (e.g. that Yakult makes any sort of real difference to your digestion). With disinformation rapidly poisoning the world and making people distrust everything they read on the news, how can we avoid getting scammed, stay true to the truth, and avoid adding to the mess?

Fake News and Advertising

Mea culpa. Advertising is sadly responsible for spreading a lot of dangerous untruths in the world, lies that ended up broadly corrected often only after lawsuits. Take the whole furor over cigarettes, for example, which ended up in tobacco advertising being banned in some countries, including Australia. The industry still doesn’t publicly accept that smoking causes lung cancer. False and misleading advertising isn’t allowed in Australia – recently, Heinz was fined $2.25 million for misleading advertising by the Federal Court of Australia:

In its initial proceeding against Heinz, the ACCC alleged the company made false and misleading representations, and engaged in conduct liable to mislead the public in relation to the nature, characteristics and suitability of its Little Kids Shredz products. These included statements claiming the product was ‘99 per cent fruit and veg’ and that the food was ‘nutritious’.

At the time, the ACCC pointed out the products contained upwards of 60 per cent sugar, a far greater ratio than an apple, for example, which is about 10 per cent sugar. Its actions followed a complaint made by the Obesity Policy Coalition about food products for toddlers that made such claims when they in fact were predominantly made from fruit juice concentrate and pastes which had much higher sugar content that raw fruit and vegetables.

Being truthful in advertising is more important than ever now, in a world where there’s usually a lot of competition in any market or industry. Brand trust is paramount. If customers stop trusting your brand for any reason — and being lied to is a huge one — they’d move on, and it’d be hard to win them back. A few tips:

  1. Be careful. Research any statement many times before you make it. If there’s even a possibility that it might not be accurate, don’t make it.
  2. Or use careful disclaimers. Have legal check your wording.
  3. If you do get something wrong, own up to it immediately, with a real apology. Not a non-apology.
  4. Commit to being as honest and as transparent with your customers as you can be. They’ll appreciate it.
  5. Add value to their lives. If it’s information – be accurate. For anything else – try to be respectful.

Countering Disinformation

Fake news often spreads through social media. In the Phillippines, where Facebook is free but internet isn’t, this has had consequences: the election of President Duterte:

Two years after the launch of Free Facebook, Rodrigo Duterte mounted a presidential bid, casting himself as the tough-on-crime, anti-elite Everyman ready to bring back jobs and order. Posts about Duterte, full of memes, propaganda, and outright libel (one opponent, now in prison on a dubious drug charge, saw a fake sex tape circulate on Facebook with her in it) did extremely well on Facebook, as nearly any inflammatory content does. When Duterte said he would dump the bodies of executed drug dealers “into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there,” the post immediately went “viral, viral, viral,” bragged one of his two social-media directors.

He won handily, and his rule has been brutal. At least 12,000 people have been killed during Duterte’s crackdown on drugs, and hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have been jailed, many of them opponents of Duterte himself. Meanwhile, his social-media team has actively worked to bring in social-media influencers to prop up Duterte’s regime (think Filipino versions of social-media creatures like Mike Cernovich, Laura Loomer, or Jack Posobiec) working closely with the Duterte administration — sometimes directly on the government payroll — to spread fake stories such as a deposed Supreme Court justice was caught attempting to flee the country. Meanwhile, news sources seen as unfriendly to the Duterte campaign have increasingly come under fire, including banning all reporters from an outlet from the presidential palace.

While a system-wide application of fake news like that can only be countered either at an institutional level or a paid organised level, here in Australia, where the internet is uncensored and freely available, it’s possible to safeguard yourself against fake news. A good rule of thumb is, if something feels even slightly unbelievable, Google it before spreading it. Sites like will help you figure things out in a pinch. Sometimes, even if it’s believable, Google it anyway. Before you spread any information, especially news, find a credible site. Read articles linked to statements before retweeting or sharing them – often, snappy 140-280 character Twitter analyses of an article sensationalise it, and key details can be misinterpreted or left out. If you get things wrong, fess up quick. Everyone falls for fake news now and then. Clickbait articles are designed to be highly readable, designed to appeal to and convince you of an idea. In other words, they’re often forms of very good advertising in their own way. Surely by now everyone knows not to completely trust what they see on TV or on social media. You’d just need to apply the same cynicism toward information in general.

We’ve become increasingly time-poor, increasingly addicted to social media, with a tendency to take our news from these platforms. I get why. Facebook’s algorithms are built to show you things that it thinks are in your interest. Information spreads so fast on Twitter that if I hear a rumour of something happening, like a rally in Melbourne CBD, I often check Twitter first because news organisations are unlikely to update anywhere as quickly. Social media can be good for spreading real news, too — I was in a recent talk by Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, who said that Twitter saved his life. During the Ferguson protests, his platform gave him so much visibility and connections that it was an invaluable part of organising the movement. The Hong Kong protests are highly visible online, and are organised through Telegram.

The platforms are only part of the problem. The trolls will always be there, and as long as their methods keep working, as long as only a tiny percentage of them ever face consequences, they’d keep on churning out fake content for their own purposes. The best we can do is to either approach everything we read online with a healthy grain of salt (a fistful of it, if it’s seen on social media), or to delete everything and live off-grid somewhere in the wilderness. Some days, that’s tempting.

Brand Experimentation

September 14, 2019

In this fast-changing, crowded day and age, brand experimentation is essential. It’s not just about changing parts of a brand’s messaging, look & feel, or advertising — it’s also about trying out new or different platforms. The process can be a little hit and miss — I laughed when I saw that L’Oreal created Snapchat lenses — but having content spread out across unexpected touchpoints does pay off: L’Oreal has been repeatedly named the world’s most powerful cosmetic brand. In an interview with Google, L’Oreal mentioned:

Whether you’re a global company like L’Oréal or a smaller brand, testing new ideas or tools takes investment and resources. That’s why anything that we test has to be something that we think can really make a difference at scale. This isn’t about looking for shiny objects, this is about taking big bets on things that we think will really help achieve a wider business goal, then seeing whether or not we were right.

To make sure that we’re staying on track and getting the biggest bang for our buck, every test has to have what we call a “learning agenda”. That’s where we outline what questions we’re looking to answer, what new insights we’d like to uncover and the steps that we’ll take to get there.

To take a page out of L’Oreal, this means:

  • Having an overarching goal for your marketing: whether it’s to get X number of quality leads a month or to get Y number more visits to your site. Having a definite set of Key Performance Indicators in mind will keep your strategy on track.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new ideas or new tools, even if it takes an investment.
  • Anything you test should be potentially able to help you reach your overarching goal.
  • Have a set of ideas that you need confirmed or answered. Is X your best target audience for your product? Is it being sold in the right way, at the right place? Should you expand?

Brand Experimentation on Different Platforms

If you’re above a certain age, or not particularly into social media, you probably aren’t familiar with TikTok. It’s currently one of the most popular social media apps on the planet: in September 2018, it had more monthly installs on the App Store than Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, and was downloaded more than a billion times that year. Tiktok is, basically, a video-based social media platform for sharing and creating short lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. You might have seen its influence in the rise of the biggest song right now on the charts: Lil Nas X’s smash country trap hit “Old Town Road”. Prior to gaining mainstream success, it built its popularity through memes on TikTok. This eventually led to the song rising through the Billboard Country charts, only to get struck off for not being “country” enough, igniting a furore about inclusiveness in country music (Lil Nas X is young, black, and queer). A remake that included Billy Ray Cyrus has been on a record-breaking run on the charts and is currently Billboard’s longest-running #1 song ever.

This success might not have happened without TikTok. The app is a second iteration of the now-defunct, which was a similar app launched in 2014 by Chinese entrepreneurs Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang. It was acquired by a Chinese tech company, Bytedance, and merged into TikTok (called Douyin in China). It’s now available in 150 countries, in 75 languages. While TikTok is still finding its legs as a commercial platform, the Director of US Marketing, Stefan Heinrich, was a popular figure at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. Via FastCompany:

“Part of the reason TikTok has taken off is that things move in trends,” he says. “People have been in a perfect, manufactured world for a while, where they have to live up to expectations and ideals. Now it’s about real life. Real people. It’s getting a window into someone else’s life, with surprise and delight. And because it’s content-driven, not connection-driven, you see people you wouldn’t normally see, outside of your traditional circle.”

The app doesn’t currently have a broad paid advertising business, though brands and organizations—from Chipotle to the UN to the San Diego Zoo to the NBA—have signed up and are creating content, as individual users, not official advertisers. Given its revenue potential, that won’t last long. TikTok does have an ad-tools platform in beta being tested by a select number of agencies right now, but for the moment Henrich says they’re simply working to connect brands with their community of creators.

Brands should consider TikTok ads or TikTok influencers if they’re marketing to a young user base (16+), have social media and video content as a core part of their strategy, and are focused on entertainment, reach, and engagement. Relatively untapped platforms like TikTok would mean that your brand’s marketing would be more visible than usual, since you aren’t competing with as many brands for attention in that space. Just like L’Oreal, brands should try new platforms (if it fits their aims and target audience).

That aside, there’s much that brands can learn from TikTok itself. The concept behind it isn’t new–it’s pretty much Vine 2.0 as a social app–but the way it’s taken off in such a massive way indicates that often, the ticket to success is equal parts luck, identifying an unfulfilled niche, and having a brand that strongly appeals to a large section of the market. There’s nothing marketing can really do about the first bit other than try to help it along, but experimentation can definitely help you find your niche and perfect market.

Messing with your Messaging

Messaging isn’t just the copy that goes with your brand–it includes how your brand portrays and conducts itself over varying touchpoints. This could include packaging, imagery, even the tone of customer service. Does it fit your brand guidelines? (Dare we ask: do you even have brand guidelines?)

Experimentation can also include testing the messaging in focus groups before the campaign is released to the public at large. This is the safest way to have a good indication of how a campaign will be received, but it’s not a set-in-stone indication. We usually recommend it to customers who can afford the budget for testing.

According to comScore, about 54% of digital messaging goes unseen by consumers. To get heard nowadays among all the noise, you need a strong message and strong content that’s relevant and accessible to your target audience. Are there alt tags? Subtitles? Does your video work with the sound off? Is your message memorable, and isn’t unnecessarily detailed or convoluted? Experimentation will help you determine whether your message is working, or help you find and tweak it until it does. You can do that by carefully testing different offerings over a period of time, and doing monthly audits to check which gave you the most value in terms of engagement or leads.

Need more help? Curious to know more? Get in touch.

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